Stories of our Lives

First Reformed


Reverend Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke) is a solitary, middle-aged parish pastor at a small Dutch Reform church in upstate New York on the cusp of celebrating its 250th anniversary. Once a stop on the Underground Railroad, the church is now a tourist attraction catering to a dwindling congregation, eclipsed by its nearby parent church, Abundant Life, with its state-of-the-art facilities and 5,000-strong flock. When a pregnant parishioner (Amanda Seyfried) asks Reverend Toller to counsel her husband, a radical environmentalist, the clergyman finds himself plunged into his own tormented past, and equally despairing future, until he finds redemption in an act of grandiose violence. From writer-director Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver; American Gigolo; Affliction) comes a gripping thriller about a crisis of faith that is at once personal, political, and planetary.

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Discussion Questions

  1. How does the film’s sparse style contribute to your response to First Reformed?

  2. What’s your favourite scene or line from the movie?

  3. Which character do you identify with the most? Why?

  4. In what way can this movie be seen as a parable?

  5. Toller said: “We have to choose despite uncertainty. Wisdom is holding two contradictory truths in our mind, simultaneously, Hope and despair. A life without despair is a life without hope. Holding these two ideas in our head is life itself.” How do you respond?

  6. 'Suffering Priest’ movies and books reveal that even ‘spiritual people’ are tempted by the same forces that everyone encounters. Does that change your attitude in any way about ministers/priests?

  7. Is the character of Michael a cautionary tale or is his response the most reasonable, given what we know?

  8. How do you interpret the ending?

  9. Wendell Berry concludes about our global climate predicament:"Be joyful though we have considered all the facts.” What does it take for us to agree?

"The real work of planet-saving will be small, humble and humbling and (insofar as it involves love) pleasing and rewarding. Its jobs will be too many to count, too many to report, too many to be publicly noticed or rewarded, too small to make anyone rich or famous."
• Wendell Berry
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