By Dan Clendenin

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First Reformed (2018)

The Protestant pastor Ernst Toller (played by Ethan Hawke) is keeping a journal of his dark thoughts, much like the young priest in the novel Diary of a Country Priest by Bernanos. As the movie unfolds, and a voice over reads the journal entries back to us, you understand why. This is a minister in the midst of a spiritual crisis, for many, good reasons. Those who are familiar with the personal background of the director Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Last Temptation of Christ) will view this movie as deeply autobiographical. In a panel discussion after a screening of First Reformed, Schrader admitted that he keeps returning to versions of his most famous character, the estranged outsider Travis Bickle in the 1976 classic Taxi Driver, and that Toller is another iteration of Bickle, who once confessed: “Loneliness has followed me my whole life — everywhere — in bars, in cars, sidewalks, stores — everywhere. There’s no escape. I’m God’s lonely man.” This is Schrader’s 12th film, and many critics are praising it as the culmination of his remarkable 40-year career.

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