First Reformed, the Alt-Right and Trump | Teen Ink

First Reformed, the Alt-Right and Trump

January 8, 2019
By CalderF BRONZE, Cohasset, Massachusetts
CalderF BRONZE, Cohasset, Massachusetts
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

Paul Schrader’s 2018 film First Reformed is not what one would call a fun experience. Sharing many themes with his screenplay for Taxi Driver, First Reformed is a dark mediation on extremism, religion, addiction, and grief. The movies story revolves around Ernst Toller, a reverend at a small congregation in the Albany area of New York. His dark mental condition spirals out of control as he meets Michael, a depressed environmental extremist, and his wife Mary. The movie obviously deals with some heavy themes, but I believe that hidden behind the religious themes are ideas about politics, particularly the 2016 election and the rise of the alt-right. The movie makes direct references to the climate change deniers in Congress (all of whom are conservatives) as well as directly criticizes companies valuing economic gains over environmental protection. My beliefs in the movies hidden themes develop from a single scene about halfway through the movie. In it, Reverend Toller (Ethan Hawke) attends a discussion by a church youth group. When one girl asks why God would let her father be laid off, Toller attempts to explain the complex relationship between God and America. He is rewarded with fierce attacks from a nationalist student. This student makes reference to ”taking prayer out of school” and how ”now you can’t offend the Muslims”. This kind of rhetoric is very notably seen in right-wing circles online, as well as echoed by President Trump. In the very next scene, a character makes reference to how ”these kids fall prey to extremism”. Right-wing extremism has seen an uptick in the last few years, with 2017's Unite the Right riot as a memorable example. This kind of extremism has its root in a conservative culture, which this film takes a hard line approach against. With the film’s themes in mind, it seems almost certain that Schrader took the current Presidential administration in mind. But, if the film’s ending is anything to go by, sometimes things may just be ambiguous forever.

The author's comments:

Rewatching this movie in late December of 2018 with my father made me realize that some of the subtext here involved politics and particularly the alt-right. As someone who adimently cares about politics, I wanted to write a comentary on this.

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