"First Reformed" Review: Paul Schrader’s intellectual and artistic endeavour is gripping and thought provoking

A Potpourri of Vestiges Review

By Tanmay Shukla

Featured in IMDb Critic Reviews

Paul Schrader's First Reformed is a meditative and philosophical enquiry into the constant battle between following one’s faith and trying to keep up with the changing times. First Reformed is Paul Schrader’s best film in many years and as an auteur he is in complete control of the medium.

The intellectual sophistication of a First Reformed has its roots in the passion Schrader has for his theme. He enters the character psyche and conscience, eerily reminding us of Travis from Taxi Driver. Ethan Hawke gives a sensational performance as Toller, the Pastor of 250 year old church.

First Reformed traces the spiritual disintegration of Toller as he combats with the mental torment and his rapidly deteriorating health. He is self-reflective and a heavy drinker. “A life without despair is a life without hope” he writes. He has embarked on a spiritual and philosophical quest before confronting the questions that plague his character, his soul. Many will not see the ending of First Reformed coming but when Paul Schrader is at his best we can be assured that he will pull it off. Not only the ending, throughout the film we observe a conviction in Schrader’s treatment of the subject.

First Reformed ruminates more than it tells and in the end leaves us guessing, encouraging further viewing and reflection, not to say that is not throbbing in the first. The scope of First Reformed is tremendous and far reaching—apart from the questions on religion and modern life, there are ethical implications and subjective, personal questions that remain unanswered. “Courage is the solution to despair, reason provides no answers.” He not only addresses the most difficult questions, he also addresses the immediate questions which concern us and are no less relevant. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world.”

The surreal hypnotic denouement juxtaposes objective with the subjective  which is deeply personal and abstract at times. In First Reformed it works and it’s glorious.

Rating: 8/10

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