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Reviews - First Reformed

First Reformed

Reviewed By Vaughan Ames

First Reformed
First Reformed
The start of 'First Reformed' has Reverend Toller, a man who blames himself for the death of his son (who he has convinced to join the army) trying to convince Michael, an environmental activist, that all is not black, that there is still hope. When Michael commits suicide, Toller is left trying to help Michael's wife, Mary, whilst he himself is more and more depressed over his failures and the apparent connivance of his church in the wrecking of the planet...

Paul Schrader, the director and writer of this film, first became famous as the writer of 'Taxi Driver' back in 1976. As Ged pointed out in his excellent introduction at the start of the evening, that film, and especially his portrayal of Travis, the lead role, came from an angry, despairing young man: 'First Reformed' sees Schrader back on form, but now as an angry old man. Asked recently, "Are you in despair?" Schrader's answer was yes: "Anyone who is optimistic at this moment hasn’t been paying attention," he says. "There's not a lot to be optimistic about, both in the long-range and the short-range. We are seeing this exponential rate of change. You can have hope, but you have to choose."

Schrader uses this film, then, to air his anger at the world for ignoring climate change. He sees both his own role in life AND his church as being responsible for this, at the least by not caring, at worst by actual involvement (Toller's church takes money from a man who has caused local environmental disasters). It is certainly a film to make you think, and it had me gripped, but the last part left many of us there a bit mystified to say the least. After a scene where he and Mary levitate over various scenes of environmental carnage – portraying Toller's inner hell (I think!) – we see him gradually take on the role of environmental extremist, planning to blow himself and the church dignitaries up. The appearance of Mary at the church stops him, and his own attempt at suicide is also prevented by her. The film ends with the two of them in a passionate kiss...but why?

We are left trying to work out what Schrader means here. OK, he has very well shown his thoughts on the world, and even on his church, but what about Toller? Like the ending of 'Taxi Driver' (where Travis kills all the pimps), at least to me, Toller's extremism was not explained enough and the final kiss just made me think of 'King Kong' – 'love conquers all'. Hopefully he was actually trying to show that you CAN choose hope over despair...

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Keswick Film Club won the Best New Film Society at the British Federation Of Film Societies awards in 2000.

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