"Weird Mixture of Faith, Madness and Leftist Politics"
What You Need To Know:
FIRST REFORMED is certainly carefully crafted and sometimes startling. Also, the actors seem committed to their roles. However, it’s a weird mixture of faith, madness and leftist politics that doesn’t really work. It affirms Jesus Christ, prayer and hymns, while it contains some disturbing, violent, and goofy content that sometimes sends an Anti-Christian vibe. The ending is confusingly and sadly silly and anti-climactic. Discerning moviegoers will want to avoid subjecting themselves to FIRST REFORMED.
FIRST REFORMED is an arthouse drama about a middle-aged, divorced, sickly pastor having a crisis of faith and purpose when he encounters the young, troubled radical environmentalist husband of one of his congregants, who’s pregnant. FIRST REFORMED is a weird mixture of faith, madness and leftist politics that doesn’t really work and contains some disturbing and goofy content that sometimes sends an Anti-Christian vibe.
As the movie opens, Dutch Reformed Pastor Ernst Toller decides to write a daily journal. Toller heads a small church in upstate New York that’s about to celebrate its 250th anniversary. Partly a museum, the church is affiliated with the megachurch of a black pastor named Jeffers. Toller seems to be suffering a stomach ailment that might be cancerous. His wife left him after their son died serving his country during the Iraq War.
A pregnant parishioner asks Toller to counsel her husband, a radical environmentalist, who doubts whether it’s morally right to bring a child into this world. The man believes the worst-case scenario of the climate change alarmists and thinks the world will implode by 2050.
Toller doesn’t even try to calm the man’s overwrought fears. Then, when tragedy strikes, Toller is plunged into a spiral of despair and loneliness. He starts drinking heavily, which only makes his stomach problem and despair worse, and he contemplates making his own violent political statement at his church’s 250-year anniversary celebration.
Paul Schrader, the writer/director of FIRST REFORMED, wrote the screenplay for one of the most iconic movies of the 1970s, TAXI DRIVER, and the screenplay for one of the most notorious movies of the 1980s, THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST. In between, he wrote and/or directed some acclaimed movies such as RAGING BULL, AMERICAN GIGOLO, and OBSESSION, and some notable failures, CAT PEOPLE and THE MOSQUITO COAST.
FIRST REFORMED is certainly carefully crafted and sometimes startling. Also, the actors seem committed to their roles. However, it’s a weird mixture of faith, madness and leftist politics that doesn’t really work. Also, it contains some disturbing and goofy content that sends an Anti-Christian vibe. For example, Toller’s boss, Pastor Jeffers, tries to help him, but in one scene, when Toller tries to talk to him about his concerns about capitalism and its alleged destruction of the environment, Pastor Jeffers overtly turns his back on him. Conveniently, the person funding the 25-year anniversary celebration for the small old church is the rich owner of an energy company that Toller thinks is guilty of pollution and corruption. Finally, the movie’s very last scene is just silly and anti-climactic, if not stupid. In fact, it’s so silly and anti-climactic that MOVIEGUIDE® can’t imagine moviegoers feeling anything but cheated out of their money if they stick through the movie until the very end.
Of course, the movie’s politically correct leftist politics, including the environmentalist attacks on humanity and capitalism, are easily refuted by any person who’s done some research on these topics. For example, the protagonist’s assertion that 97 percent of scientists believe in the catastrophic predictions of climate change have been totally debunked (see https://www.forbes.com/sites/alexepstein/2015/01/06/97-of-climate-scientists-agree-is-100-wrong/#6fa1842e3f9f, for example). In fact, in 2017, at least 485 papers were published disputing that alleged “consensus” (see https://wattsupwiththat.com/2018/01/10/the-97-climate-consensusstarts-to-crumble-with-485-new-papers-in-2017-that-question-it/). Finally, although modern capitalism’s use of fossil fuels is often attacked by many, the fact is that modern capitalism is also responsible for creating alternative forms of energy.
FIRST REFORMED does contain some Christian affirmations. For example, people call Jesus Christ the Savior, people pray, and several hymns are partially heard. So, the movie doesn’t really mock these examples of Christian faith as some other politically left-leaning movies might do. The protagonist isn’t questioning his faith’s basic theology; he’s questioning his church’s handling of certain social issues. Of his two responses to this problem, though, one is clearly evil, and the other makes no sense.