A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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. It presents interesting theological arguments involving day-to-day issues in a serious, adult way; although it may not appeal to them, it should be OK for older teens, depending on their sensitivity to some of the subjects listed above.
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 can happen.
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 only allows 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/on TV. How does First Reformed compare? Does it present them as multi-dimensional 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/portray suicide? What's the best way to address difficult topics like this with kids?
What do you think the movie's ending means? Has tragedy been averted or merely delayed?
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