First Reformed

Movie review by
Michael Ordona, Common Sense Media
First Reformed Movie Poster Image
Parents recommend
Disturbing images in intense, mature character study.
  • R
  • 2018
  • 108 minutes

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 5 reviews

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 2 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

To describe the film's apparent message in detail would be a spoiler; suffice it to say that after a descent into darkness, there's a real plea for human connection.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Several members of the clergy, including the main character, are portrayed as caring and serious about their work. The main character, as troubled as he is, definitely tries to do the right thing as he sees it.


Gory aftermath of a suicide is shown. Suicide is a theme. YouTube footage of suicide bomber is viewed, albeit in poor resolution. A character performs a disturbing act of penance. A character's growing illness is represented in painful, discolored (probably bloody) urination.


No nudity. But there's an undercurrent of roiling sexuality that almost spills over in one (non-nude) intimate scene. The approach to sexuality is adult.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Main character is a spiraling alcoholic. His drinking definitely isn't glamorized, but it's increasingly present as the film goes on.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that although First Reformed doesn't have any nudity, excessive violence, or strong language, its themes and approach are definitely mature. It deals with suicide, depression, likely PTSD, repressed sexuality, and radicalization. And its measured pace is likely too slow for younger viewers. Ethan Hawke stars as a troubled priest who's involved in the lives of a young couple (Amanda Seyfried, Philip Ettinger); the film follows his rapid decline. The film presents interesting theological arguments involving day-to-day issues in a serious, adult way. Although it may not appeal to teens, it should be OK for older teens, depending on their sensitivity to some of the subjects listed here.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byDarylTheStudent January 1, 2019

First Reformed

First Reformed is one of the most well-acted, well-written and thought-provoking films of the year, with a standout performance from Ethan Hawke.

Content: Ther... Continue reading
Adult Written byTheNinthReviewer May 6, 2020

Sobering, Deep, and Not for Young Audience Members

First Reformed is, in my opinion, one of the most well made and thought provoking films in recent years. Every single scene feels unique and carefully put toget... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written bytoby woby January 12, 2019

A troubled preacher's Spiritual journey

First of all, please know this isn't a full blown preachy Christian movie, nor is it some sort of anti-Christian movie, like what keenanb seems to think. T... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old December 13, 2018

Dark, unsettling drama is great and complex

FIRST REFORMED is about Toller (Ethan Hawke) a single preist who preaches at small, touristy church in New York. Although, the movie is great and complex, they’... Continue reading

What's the story?

FIRST REFORMED follows a troubled priest named Father Toller (Ethan Hawke) as he tries to help young couple Mary (Amanda Seyfried) and Michael (Philip Ettinger) and is drawn into a tragic series of events. Perhaps because of his own past trauma and growing alcoholism, Toller may be susceptible to certain dark turns. His caring boss (Cedric the Entertainer) and loving colleague (Victoria Hill) try to help before something bad happens.

Is it any good?

This might sound convenient because writer-director Paul Schrader also wrote Taxi Driver, but this drama could be viewed as a companion piece to that classic. Set in the priesthood, First Reformed follows a PTSD sufferer down a dark road searching for a guiding light. Hawke's placid surface and intellectual rigor as Father Toller belie the roiling beneath. He hasn't overcome his past guilt, and when the opportunity to participate fully in something larger than himself presents itself, you have to imagine that the urge isn't dissimilar to what led him to the clergy in the first place. Schrader takes a slow, calm, direct, almost Kubrickian path here: long, static takes; minimal score; few moments of over-the-top emotion. What emerges is a portrait -- almost a still-life -- of radicalization.

The acting is solid all around. Ettinger shines as a passionate young husband. Hill is sympathetic as the choir director who loves Father Toller. As the leader of the church/corporation that employs Toller, Cedric the Entertainer balances priorities of compassion and the bottom line. Schrader allows only one clear villain (a heartless CEO), and his dramatic purpose is clear: to muddy the waters for viewers' rooting interests. First Reformed is carefully considered and cleanly executed. Its final scene makes an interesting argument for what might cure the sickness that seems to infect so many with violent thoughts.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the clergy are typically portrayed in movies and on TV. How does First Reformed compare? Does it present them as multidimensional human beings or give you insight into why they chose their profession? Do you believe the characters' concerns?

  • Were you surprised by the path Toller took after the young man's death? Why do you think he became interested in those actions?

  • How does the film address and portray suicide? What's the best way to approach difficult topics like this with kids?

  • What do you think the movie's ending means? Has tragedy been averted or merely delayed?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love dramas

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