A couple of years ago I wrote that I had trouble with Martin Scorsese's SILENCE, a visually beautiful movie about Jesuits in 17th-Century Japan because it was a movie about faith, a subject completely alien to me. I had exactly the opposite problem with the movie I saw with my cousin today, Paul Schrader's First Reformed (2017).
Ethan Hawke is the pastor of a tiny Dutch Reformed church in upstate New York. He has about seven communicants. The only reason his church exists at all is that it is an historically important church, about to celebrate its 250th anniversary, with a major ceremony. Mr. Hawke has major emotional issues. His son was killed Iraq, following a long family tradition of national service. His wife, played by Victoria Hill, divorced him. In the meantime, one of his congregation, pregnant Amanda Seyfritz, asks him to counsel her husband, who wants her to get an abortion. He is convinced that global warming is about to end the world and it would be wrong to bring a child into this world.
I wrote of SILENCE that I have no personal understanding of faith. Neither, apparently, does Schrader, who wrote as well as directed this movie. His take on the subject is that anything that he does not understand is nonsense, and that the motives of people are always base and evil. By the end of the movie I was deeply offended. When my cousin asked me what I thought, I replied: "Well, Mr. Schrader, f**k you too."
It is not simply the absence of anyone to admire in the movie. That is a tiresome feature of far too many modern movies that I note as a major flaw to my enjoyment. It is a major philosophic flaw of many people who, confronted with someone with opinions different from theirs, assume the basest of motivations; Mr. Schrader makes that assumption and makes it the central message of his movie. People are garbage, regardless of what they tell you. It is an argument grown distressingly common in the highest of modern political discourse and I reject it absolutely, and this movie with it.
I asked my cousin what he thought of this movie. He said "Well, a movie should show you something you haven't seen before." I agreed it had, but told him that the next time he wanted to see a movie by Mr. Schrader, he could see it without me.
Action / Drama / Mystery / Thriller
Action / Drama / Mystery / Thriller
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Forty-six year old Reverend Ernst Toller is the pastor at the historic First Reformed Church in upstate New York. It is seen as the "tourist" church or the "souvenir shop" (its historical significance partly it being a stop on the underground railroad before the slaves crossed into Canada) by Abundant Life, which owns the church and which operates a modern self-named five thousand seat church overseen by Reverend Joel Jeffers. First Reformed is celebrating its two hundred fiftieth anniversary this year, for which a major event is planned, modest in size only at First Reformed itself although the dignitaries like the governor and mayor will be at attendance there, while the event will be simulcast at Abundant Life. Most of the speech-making will be done by local industrialist Ed Balq, a major benefactor of Abundant Life and who is the major donor for the necessary upgrades at First Reformed to be able to hold the event there, and for the event itself, while Toller's participation will be minimal beyond the introductory sermon. First Reformed is generally a sparsely attended church meaning that Toller doesn't have to do much direct ministering, although he does have the stock answers when asked how God factors into this or that situation in one's life. Toller himself has long been divorced, his marriage which could not survive the death of their son, Joseph, in war. Because of that history, Toller believes he is incapable of human love, despite a brief relationship with Esther, the choir mistress at Abundant Life, she who is arguably still in love with him. Toller is neglecting the warning signs about his poor health, the symptoms pointing to a probable diagnosis of stomach cancer, which is only exacerbated by his largely liquid (i.e. alcohol) diet. Toller is already examining his life and work in writing a daily journal for a year, that journal which he intends no one ever to read, but these issues in Toller's life become more pointed when a new pregnant congregant, Mary, asks him to speak to her husband Michael, who Toller will learn is an environmentalist concerned about bringing another human life into what he already sees as a world doomed because of man's role in climate change.
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