Paul Schrader directs Ethan Hawke in First Reformed like God almighty would direct a sleepwalker – the pastor of a souvenir church in upstate New York spends his days in a monochrome maze of redemptive possibilities, searching for a wake up call… A couple walk through the door seeking marital advice – she, pregnant, present and full of graceful honesty, he, devastated, anxious, full of rage at the state of the world, a radical environmentalist that is on the verge of taking the step too far.
Most of the film is a precious exercise at observing one’s own boredom threshold – as the contemplative pace and mundane minutia carries on, uninterrupted, thus your belief in the director gets tested, paralleling the pastor’s belief in God… Is there a purpose to this film? Is there a purpose to this life? Will a tension point be reached when the pastor will break, decide to participate in the land of the living rather than to observe it in grief?
A colleague-in-faith notes that not even Christ spent all his time in the garden of Gethsemane, alone, in agony.
It swept me like high tide, in the end, much as a windfall of good luck can disorient us when we are deep in mourning… this painful, beautiful, essential meditation on isolation, and how we get there, and what gets us out.
Saying anything more would be blasphemy. Your eye needs to see it the way your heart allows.