Review: First Reformed

Finally, a fresh depiction of faith’s darker insecurities

Adrian Patenaude
May 26, 2018 · 2 min read
Ethan Hawke as Reverend Toller

First Reformed is the most honest representation of faith I’ve seen in a long time — or at least it’s one I’ve related to most. For once, the Christians who populated the story were in turn endearing and infuriating and cynical and caring. I’ve met people like them in every church I’ve attended and I’ve been each of them as my faith has changed with me throughout my life. I laughed out loud in one scene where a frustrated question bursts out of a young believer in the middle of a church discussion group. How many times have I held my tongue while feeling the same bitter skepticism?

I’m so tired of the stereotypical “judgmental clergyman” character taking the full brunt of a film’s resentment toward toxic Christian culture. In contrast, the character of Reverend Toller has the gift of engaging with the more desperate questions of faith with stark honesty and compassion. That’s much more like the men and women I have known in the church. Not all of us are threatened by taboo topics. I found this film so refreshing because many of the questions asked here are ones I’ve taken to their ultimate conclusions in my own dark grapplings with the harsh realities of our world, and how God could possibly fit into it all.

The greater story, of course, is about depression and hopelessness, so we see how these questions can destroy us if we let them consume us. In stories like these, I always wish the characters would just get some counseling (yes, even pastors — or especially pastors — need counseling).

The weakest part of the movie was its baffling and abrupt ending. If it wasn’t for that, this might very well have been one of my favorite movies of the year so far. Either way, I appreciate the themes and characters explored here and will be thinking about them for some time.

Adrian Patenaude

Written by

Writer / Filmmaker / Confessional Poet. Made in Thailand. Austin, TX.

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