First Reformed is a new movie starring Ethan Hawke about climate anxiety & depression. We all have good reason to be worried about the state of the planet, and now that is being reflected in movies that are set very much in the present. Unlike earlier movies relating to environmental disaster that were often set in the future and tended to be scifi/fantasy in genre, art is now beginning to reflect the present day impacts of climate change.
Review from The BC Heights:
“After a church service one morning, a parishioner named Mary (Amanda Seyfried) approaches Toller, informing him of her husband’s psychological distress before asking the priest to speak to him. Promptly the following day, Toller visits the couple’s home and has a lengthy conversation with Michael (Philip Ettinger) about his environmental activism and his debilitating fear that climate change has irrevocably destroyed the planet—“Opportunistic diseases, anarchy, martial law … you will live to see this,” he says. This spout of disconcerting nihilism becomes all the more troublesome when it is revealed that Mary’s pregnant and Michael can’t fathom bringing a child into this fallen world. Undoubtedly concerned for the couple, the reverend agrees to help them through their struggle, but he also becomes strangely engrossed in Michael’s apocalyptic rhetoric.
The lonely priest takes it upon himself to learn more about climate change, and things aren’t looking good for the earth. Feelings of isolation bring about feelings of powerlessness in the face of ecological catastrophe, and Toller—clinically depressed, at this point—begins to question everything: his vocation, his faith, his passivity, and humanity in general. He wonders how humans could carelessly destroy their own planet, as he drinks himself into oblivion. For Schrader, activism is an act of self-preservation—Toller’s concern that humans will destroy the planet clearly reflects a similar fear about his own self-destructive drinking habit. Nonetheless, the film chronicles his stirring transformation from a meek creature of habit into the living embodiment of righteous anger—the lowly priest soon wields his indignation when he contemplates committing an act of environmental extremism.
If it wasn’t already clear, Schrader is far more concerned with Toller’s psychology than he is with the environment, climate change, or fossil fuels. These political issues are surely important, but the film is more interested in what compels a person to commit an act of violence. Critic Jonathan Rosenbaum once called Schrader’s politics “confused,” and that may very well be true, but this accusation is far from derogatory in my mind. First Reformed often feels overwhelmingly powerful, in part because it invites us to soak in Toller’s confusion by forcing us to consider the ramifications of an act of terrorism, even if our protagonist is endowed with an admirable, liberal cause that the audience can get behind.”