Paul Schrader's First Reformed is a masterful examination of the existential nature of belief, and the cold, destructive nature of depression, a film which subverts expectations at every turn, drawing parallels between the dogmatic nature of theological and ideologically-driven lifestyles, ultimately being a potent expose on the deeply-flawed mindset of those who seek change through violence. While the film certainly could be placed into the "crises of faith" subgenre of cinema, First Reformed is more a film about the existential nature that a crisis of conscience can have on the psyche, illustrating the necessity for hope & love in life, despite the host of problems which plague mankind. Through this character's journey, which I will not detail here, First Reformed transforms into a potent study of despair, recognizing how emotion itself while paramount can be illogical, as those who fixate on the negative find themselves becoming a slave to this pain, unable to still see the good that exists in the world. The dichotomy between the main-protagonist, a Reverend who is wracked by grief & guilt over the death of his son, and the radical environmentalist who he attempts to council, speaks volumes about First Reformed intentions, as the film draws powerful parallels between these two characters, capturing how they are one-and-the-same on a deeply spiritual level, each sculpted by pain and eventually driven by anger. The film encapsulates how while autocratic perceptions of life often give an individual comfort, it can quickly divulge into dogma, recognizing how this is often where violence and innocent lives are destroyed. The aesthetic instilled by Schrader throughout this story is stoic, minimalist, and astute, with the film drawing heavily from symmetrical compositions early, rich in pathos and evoking the theme of the story about the need for balance in life, where hope and despair, pain and triumph run tangent to each other, two sides to the same coin that empower one and other through one's inner, spiritual struggle. The core of First Reformed is simply a story about the paramount nature of love and hope, a film which pulls off this type of thematic assertion in a way that only Paul Schrader could, being a dark, brooding study of a man on the edge.
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