A film that makes you comfortably consider uncomfortable realities: First Reformed

First Reformed is written and directed by Paul Schrader. It stars Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried and Cedric Kyles.

This film has religious themes. Yet at its core it is a film about the human condition. Ethan Hawke portrays minister Reverend Toller who presides over a handful of attendees in an historic church building. He is employed by mega church Pastor Jeffers, played by Cedric Kyles. One of his churchgoers, Mary, a pregnant Amanda Seyfried, seeks Toller’s help with her husband whom she is desperate to keep from being sent back to prison.

The approach to the story is brutal, stark, and emotionally jarring, sensitive viewers should be cautioned about the content as some could find it too disturbing.

The style of the film is the main character. It brought to mind Unforgiven, Clint Eastwood’s 1992 masterpiece about an aging gunslinger William Munny, in Wyoming circa 1881. The mood and the tone are clearly set as we are introduced to the fragile psychological state of Reverend Toller. His conflict is one that would challenge anyone. He has suffered loss, and in the process, betrayed his personal beliefs, with both physical and emotional consequences. Schrader manages to fill the screenplay with such a large quantity of ideas, you no doubt will miss some, but those that resonate with you will cause you pause.

The grace of this story is that from within it we can draw a relationship with scores of people who face similar issues during their lifetime. You see First Reformed, and you can consider the personal choices you have been making, even if your life looks nothing like any of those on the screen. Beyond that, it provides a polemic on the societies we live in and the world in general, by questioning who is responsible for the ills that surround us. Is it God? Is it mankind? Do our actions define what we believe? Do we have the free will to destroy the planet? If so what does that say about God?

The film will demand that you pay attention, and consider each and every nuanced aspect of the content and how it relates to other aspects of what takes place, in order to appreciate the messages. It becomes clear that this film is in some ways simple on its face, but at the same time complex beyond expectation. You could say that this is a story about religion that doesn’t preach. Or a tragic Shakespearean (sic) rendering of An Inconvenient Truth. What you cannot say is that it doesn’t deliver a powerful punch, a thoughtful story, and a contemplation of our spiritual condition.

A Story about Mom

I am in a discussion group for the book Recovering from Loss in Life, by H. Norman Wright.  I believe we have much to benefit from reading and talking ala book club like.  I even created an online book club on Goodreads.com, though it hasn’t yet come to fruition.

Have you experienced good results from book discussion groups?  If so, to what do you attribute their success?  I feel determined to pursue them out of an expectation that the effort will be well rewarded.

At this stage in my current group, I am applying one of the questions in Chapter 2 – healthy things I will do to respond to my next loss – by writing about my mother.  Her late stage dementia is a loss I want to cope with.  So, for my healing, and for her honor, I am remembering some good times that she created in my life.  I’m quite sure some fond memories will be a safe destination.

Once upon a time…

My senior year in high school, we lived far enough away that walking from home would not work.  I had a zero hour (7am) class because I played saxophone in the performance band.  As a member of the cross country and track team for the school, my team workouts wound up anywhere from 5 to 5:30pm before heading home.

We could not afford for me to have car, and I did not have a job.  What did mom do?  I drove her to work by 6:30am for her job that started at 8.  After dropping her off I would head to school in her car.  After work, she would get rides home from co-workers.

This was our routine, done with no fanfare, with no big discussion about sacrifice nor any acknowledgment that anything was special or extraordinary.  It just was.

This example reflects a myriad of the shared experiences which she contributed in our lives.  The nature of how my mother treated life and family can be imagined, I hope, from considering her role in this story.  I love you mom.