We’re all just one thing—when the world suffers, it manifests itself in the individual as well, whether it be through a disease of the body or the mind, or as an unease of some other kind, and I really liked how First Reformed drew that parallel. I’m not usually one for movies with a message, but the environmental plea is weaved into this so organically and intelligently that it’s very touching. Although we see Ethan Hawke’s pastor go to the doctor, we never hear of any results, and it’s very likely that science would be too limited to grasp his suffering.

What also spoke to me was the film’s style; it’s hyperfocused as if under a microscope, and minimalistic like everything on the earth’s surface was erased and then refurbished with only the essentials—it feels so stripped down and yet so full, aided by an equally economic score. It sounds like a horror film even though technically it isn’t, reminding you that maybe there isn’t anything more scary than simply being alive in today’s world, and nothing more threatening than going about your everyday life. You might be hit by a truth—your own or someone else’s, and the world as you know it might collapse with the blink of an eye. The atmosphere is almost apocalyptic.

It’s a film about people closing their eyes, and those who are beginning to see—and how painful awareness can be. It’s about the difficulty of being a spiritual being in a disconnected world. And it’s also about that one thing, or that one person, that can prevent your world from drowning completely. In the film’s only love scene, Ethan Hawke's and Amanda Seyfried's kiss looks more like a feeding, and you can almost see a healing take place. There are several moments that are surprisingly powerful in their simplicity.

It’s the film Kenneth Lonergan would make if he wasn’t so paralyzingly humble, the film Terrence Malick would make if he didn’t have such delusions of grandeur. Questioning life and the point of it all, this easily could have been a very pretentious film. Pretentiousness is avoided when you really mean what you say. And Paul Schrader means it.

There’s something different about First Reformed, something we haven’t seen before. If I dissect it into little pieces, I find the same old ingredients as in many other films—yet there’s something innovative about it that I can’t pinpoint nor explain. Modern is a word I often use as an insult, but here I mean it as a compliment. It feels like a film of and for the new century. A film that is needed, maybe.


Maybe the most beautiful thing about Francis Lee’s film is his definition of a dream man. Because Gheorghe is just that—and it's got nothing to do with his height or his teeth. He's gentle and giving, but with a clear sense of identity. Emotionally mature, he gives without losing himself. He meets people with an open heart, but he's aware of how much that is worth. He knows his trust in you is a gift. If you take it for granted, he's not gonna stick around. Screw him over, crew, and he will leave. Today. He’s not gonna engage in the kind of drama that so many people enjoy, whether consciously or subconsciously, the glue that sometimes keeps people together. He knows that’s not love. He knows who he is, and he takes complete responsibility for that person, but only for that person. He's not gonna save you. He challenges you. He lets you grow. A man of few words, he leads by example—even if he’s away from you. Whether you've ever told him or not, you admire him, and rightly so. Hopefully he will inspire you to more than admiration, hopefully he will make you want to be just as vulnerable. If you want him back, it's you’ll have to invest, because another thing that he knows is that love means balance. You'll have to prove that you're his equal. He's not gonna be seduced by a few apologetic kisses and whispered promises. He needs to know you mean it. Because he means it. When he forgives, he forgives completely. He heals quickly when he believes. His heart will be open once again—completely open and completely yours. Gheorghe is that rare person who understands love.


I want to keep this short because there is no way I could properly write about this film without getting too personal. Not that I'm afraid of getting too personal, it's just that I believe that some things belong just to ourselves. Like the pain of Toshiro Mifune's character, “the sharp-looking type that women go for”, a suave crook, with a great intensity in his eyes, and wild strands of hair that fall in his face in just the right moments, in just the right way, to cool for everything, but not immune to illness. Tuberculosis is out to get him. Illness, the great dictator, and yet the great democrat, too, as it doesn't care who you are, where you're coming from and where you plan on going. You are in its grip, robbed of your identity, reminding you that your life is just a few blinks in the grand scheme of things, and these are the truths he is facing now, whether he wants to or not. With one hand he is firmly holding on to the Earth—his pride, his loyalty, his masculinity, the ego that tricks him into believing that we matter. His knowing hand is greeting mortality. He stands by a muddy river, smelling on a carnation, the flower of death. Then he throws it into the dirty water. He'll stay for just a little longer.

And then there is the alcoholic doctor, played by Takashi Shimura, who cares a little more than any doctor you will ever meet in real life, he's a little too invested, and we realize it's because he is projecting all sorts of things into his unusual new patient: He sees in him a memory or a wish, maybe he sees what he himself could have been, whether it was who he wanted to be or feared to be. He admires and despises him in equal measure. He is the drunken angel who makes a promise of saving Mifune's character, in such a desperate way that you think he's trying to save his own life. And in a way that's exactly his intention. Sometimes we cling to people and try to save them because we fail to save ourselves. And when we fail them, too, we might get angry because they didn't allow us to forget, to bury our heads in their lap and disappear in their pain. And so there we are again, alone, cornered by our own shortcomings and no way out. No way to dissolve until our time is up. A blessing and a curse to wake up again the next day with a new illusion, something else to cling to. A stranger or a familiar face crossing our path, confirming our purpose or leaving us with a smile.

I have been both, the drunken angel and the one who was once saved by one, and this is why this unforgettable film will always hold a special place in my heart.