First Reformed

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First Reformed
First Reformed.png
Theatrical release poster
Directed byPaul Schrader
Produced by
Written byPaul Schrader
Music byLustmord
CinematographyAlexander Dynan
Edited byBenjamin Rodriguez Jr.
  • Killer Films
  • Omeira Studio Partners
  • Fibonacci Films
  • Arclight Films
  • Big Indie Productions
Distributed byA24
Release date
  • August 31, 2017 (2017-08-31) (Venice)
  • May 18, 2018 (2018-05-18) (United States)
Running time
113 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$3.5 million[1]
Box office$3.8 million[2]

First Reformed is a 2017 American drama film written and directed by Paul Schrader.[3] It stars Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried, and Cedric Kyles, and follows a Protestant minister faced with questions of faith and morality while serving as pastor of a dwindling historical church.

First Reformed was screened in the main competition section of the 74th Venice International Film Festival on August 31, 2017,[4] and was theatrically released in the United States on May 18, 2018, by A24.[5] The film was acclaimed by critics, with specific praise for Hawke's performance and Schrader's screenplay and direction, and was chosen by both the National Board of Review and American Film Institute as one of the Top 10 Films of 2018. At the Independent Spirit Awards, the film received nominations for Best Film, Best Male Lead (Hawke), Best Director and Best Screenplay.


Reverend Ernst Toller of the First Reformed Church in Snowbridge, New York is writing down his thoughts in a journal for a year, after which he intends to destroy it. First Reformed, a 250-year-old Dutch Reformed Church, faces dwindling attendance under Toller's leadership, which has taken the church in a new direction and away from its historical focus on Reformed theology. In trying to manage his own life issues, Toller seeks a deeper experience through reading Roman Catholic (Thomas Merton and G.K. Chesterton) and mystical books (The Cloud of Unknowing). This new spiritual direction leads him to seek support from a nearby charismatic megachurch, Abundant Life, which owns the historical landmark, and previous stop on the Underground Railroad.

Toller, a former military chaplain, is struggling with the death of his son Joseph, who was killed in the Iraq War after Toller encouraged him to enlist in the armed forces. He meets Mary, who is seeking counseling for her radical-environmentalist husband, Michael, further challenging his beliefs. Michael explains that he wants Mary to get an abortion, because he does not want to bring a child into a world that will be rendered almost uninhabitable by climate change.

Mary finds a suicide vest belonging to her husband in their garage. Toller takes it, promising to counsel Michael about it. Mary and Toller discuss going to the police, but Toller feels it would dramatically worsen Michael's state. Just before their next appointment, Michael sends Toller a text message asking to meet in a local park; Toller arrives to find Michael dead of a self-inflicted shotgun wound. Following Michael's will and testament, his ashes are scattered in a service at a local toxic-waste dump. Meanwhile, plans are underway to celebrate the sestercentennial of First Reformed with a service attended by the mayor, governor, and a notable industrialist, Edward Balq, who sponsors Abundant Life. At a diner meeting, Toller argues with Balq over climate change, which Balq dismisses as "complicated", but Toller sees it as a straightforward matter of Christian stewardship.

Experiencing various physical pains, Toller reluctantly sees a doctor, who suspects stomach cancer and schedules tests. Using Michael's laptop, which he took after his suicide to prevent the police discovering his radicalism and making trouble for Mary, Toller researches Michael's concerns further, including the materials which inspired him to make the explosive vest. One night, Mary visits Toller in the parsonage of the church, and he plays Michael's role in a nonsexual rite of physical intimacy that the couple used to perform.

Toller begs Mary not to attend the anniversary service. Preparing for his role in the ceremony, he puts on the explosive vest, and arms it. Seeing that Mary has in fact come to the service, he removes the vest and instead wraps himself in barbed wire under his vestment robe, and prepares to drink a lethal dose of drain cleaner. Mary interrupts him, and they embrace, kissing passionately.



First Reformed was filmed over the course of 20 days around Brooklyn and Queens, New York,[1] including the building and grounds of the Zion Episcopal Church in Douglaston, Queens.[6]


In September 2017, A24 acquired distribution rights to the film.[7] It was theatrically released in the United States on May 18, 2018.[8] It has also screened in a number of film festivals, among them the New Zealand International Film Festival[9] and the Melbourne International Film Festival.[10]


Box office[edit]

First Reformed grossed $100,270 from four theaters in its opening weekend, an average of $25,068 per venue, one of the best of Schrader's career.[11]

Critical response[edit]

On the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 93% based on 203 reviews, and an average rating of 8.3/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Brought to life by delicate work from writer-director Paul Schrader and elevated by a standout performance by Ethan Hawke, First Reformed takes a sensitive and suspenseful look at weighty themes."[12] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 85 out of 100, based on 47 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[13]

Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian noted that Ethan Hawke's character's name was an allusion to the German playwright of the same name.[14]


Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) and nominee(s) Result Ref(s)
American Film Institute January 4, 2019 Top 10 Films of the Year First Reformed Won [15]
Detroit Film Critics Society December 3, 2018 Best Picture First Reformed Nominated [16]
Best Director Paul Schrader Nominated
Best Actor Ethan Hawke Won
Best Screenplay Paul Schrader Nominated
Gotham Awards November 26, 2018 Best Feature First Reformed Nominated [17][18][19]
Best Screenplay Paul Schrader Won
Best Actor Ethan Hawke Won
Audience Award First Reformed Nominated
Independent Spirit Awards February 23, 2019 Best Film Jack Binder, Greg Clark, Gary Hamilton, Victoria Hill, David Hinojosa, Frank Murray, Deepak Sikka and Christine Vachon Pending [20]
Best Director Paul Schrader Pending
Best Male Lead Ethan Hawke Pending
Best Screenplay Paul Schrader Pending
National Board of Review January 8, 2019 Top 10 Films First Reformed Won [21]
Best Original Screenplay Paul Schrader Won
New York Film Critics Circle November 29, 2018 Best Actor Ethan Hawke Won [22]
Best Screenplay Paul Schrader Won
Satellite Awards February 17, 2019 Best Independent Film First Reformed Pending [23]
Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Drama Ethan Hawke Pending
Best Original Screenplay Paul Schrader Pending


  1. ^ a b Johnson, Ted (May 19, 2018). "PopPolitics: Paul Schrader on How 'First Reformed' Reflects His Own Despair Over Climate Crisis (Listen)". Variety. Penske Business Media. Retrieved May 20, 2018.
  2. ^ "First Reformed (2018)". The Numbers. Retrieved August 11, 2018.
  3. ^ Charlie David Page (August 8, 2018). "SWITCH. | Film review: First Reformed - A meticulous drama simultaneously stunning and ominous". SWITCH. Retrieved September 3, 2018.
  4. ^ "Paul Schrader - First Reformed". Venezia 74. Venice Biennale. Retrieved August 30, 2017.
  5. ^ Anderson, Ariston (July 27, 2017). "Venice Competition Includes Films From George Clooney, Guillermo del Toro, Darren Aronofsky". The Hollywood Reporter. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved July 27, 2017.
  6. ^ Soterakis, Alexis (June 9, 2018). "The Zion Church Strawberry Festival". Bayside Patch. Patch Media. Retrieved June 23, 2018.
  7. ^ Busch, Anita (September 15, 2017). "A24 Acquires U.S. Rights To Paul Schrader's 'First Reformed'". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved September 15, 2017.
  8. ^ Perez, Lexy (March 29, 2018). "Ethan Hawke Is a Preachor Facing a Crisis of Faith in 'First Reformed' Trailer". The Hollywood Reporter. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved March 29, 2018.
  9. ^ "First Reformed". New Zealand International Film Festival. New Zealand Film Festival Trust. Retrieved August 8, 2018.
  10. ^ "First Reformed". Melbourne International Film Festival. Retrieved August 8, 2018.
  11. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (May 20, 2018). "'Deadpool 2' Swinging In As Second-Best Opening For R-Rated Pic With $125M". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved May 20, 2018.
  12. ^ "First Reformed (2018)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved November 23, 2018.
  13. ^ "First Reformed Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved November 23, 2018.
  14. ^ Bradshaw, Peter (July 12, 2018). "First Reformed review – Ethan Hawke faces Paul Schrader's spiritual apocalypse - Peter Bradshaw's film of the week". The Guardian. Guardian News and Media. Retrieved August 3, 2018.
  15. ^ "AFI Reveals 2018 Film, TV Award Winners". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved December 6, 2018.
  16. ^ "The 2018 Detroit Film Critics Society Awards". Detroit Film Critics Society. 3 December 2018. Archived from the original on 4 December 2018. Retrieved 3 December 2018.
  17. ^ Wagmeister, Elizabeth (November 26, 2018). "Gotham Awards: A24 Sweeps With Five Wins, Including 'First Reformed,' 'Eighth Grade' (Full Winners List)". Variety. Retrieved November 27, 2018.
  18. ^ Sharf, Zach (October 18, 2018). "2018 Gotham Awards Nominations: 'The Favourite' and 'First Reformed' Lead the Pack". IndieWire. Retrieved November 26, 2018.
  19. ^ Mandinach, Zach (October 18, 2018). "Nominations Announced for the 28th Annual IFP Gotham Awards". Independent Filmmaker Project. Retrieved November 26, 2018.
  20. ^ Erbland, Kate (November 16, 2018). "2019 Independent Spirit Awards Nominees, 'Eighth Grade' & 'We the Animals' Lead". IndieWire. Retrieved November 16, 2018.
  21. ^ Sharf, Zach (November 27, 2018). "National Board of Review 2018 Winners: 'Green Book' Named Best Film, Lady Gaga Best Actress". IndieWire. Retrieved November 29, 2018.
  22. ^ Sharf, Zach (November 29, 2018). "2018 New York Film Critics Circle Awards". IndieWire. Retrieved November 29, 2018.
  23. ^ "International Press Academy The 23rd Annual Satellite Awards™ 2018 Nominations Ballot" (PDF) (Press release). International Press Academy. 29 November 2018. Archived (PDF) from the original on 30 November 2018. Retrieved 29 November 2018.

External links[edit]