“You can only out-run your childhood for so long,” says FIRST REFORMED Director/Writer Paul Schrader, “and then one day you realize you’re now running towards it again.”
After a conversation with Director Pawel Pawlikowski (of the Oscar winning film IDA) about spiritual style in cinema, and at age 70, Schrader decided that it was time to write the movie that he “swore [he] would never write.” Drawing inspiration from films of a similar genre, he began piecing together the film which he described as “a risk.” Schrader describes making the film as withholding many of the elements that typically define the art-house genre – timing, action, empathy, certain editing choices, etc. – which forces audience members to either shy away or lean in further.
Schrader describes “the secret of stealing” as a synonym for creativity – in which one uses small bits of inspiration from other works to re-imagine and develop those ideas into something entirely new. TAXI DRIVER is one such reference in FIRST REFORMED, but all the references are in service of the whole, says the film’s lead actor Ethan Hawke. Hawke says that he was drawn to the film because “its a total cry” that he related to – the voice of the film was so clear. He elaborates on his preparation for the role, and his grandmother’s desire for him to have become a priest, here:
Hawke describes that his lifetime of learning about cinema helped prepare him to work with Schrader – and one of his earliest teachers was Richard Linklater, which he elaborates on here:
One of the key scenes in the film – described as the “cosmic ascension” scene – which takes the film onto a new plane. Schrader says that he asked himself, “What would Tarkovsky do?”, and drew inspiration from his films and techniques. He elaborates on cosmic ascension and more in the full Q&A, here:
About the film:
Reverend Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke) is a solitary parish pastor in upstate New York on the cusp of celebrating its 250th anniversary. Once a stop on the Underground Railroad, the church is now a tourist attraction catering to a dwindling congregation. When a pregnant parishioner (Amanda Seyfried) asks Reverend Toller to counsel her husband, the clergyman finds himself plunged into his own tormented past, and equally despairing future, until he finds redemption in an act of grandiose violence. From director Paul Schrader (TAXI DRIVER) comes a gripping thriller about a crisis of faith that is at once personal, political, and planetary.
View the trailer:
Where to see it: