Once again, just like in "Mother!", some of the critics who are paid to review movies didn't quite get the gist. However, where "First Reformed" is definitely not like Mother!, is in its ultimately uplifting transcendent message. Mother! missed that boat in favor of self-indulgent humanity-bashing.
The top negative and positive viewer reviews on Amazon for First Reformed also fell short. The negative ones talked about the movie being boring with a terrible ending, and the positive reviews talked about how the movie was so "relevant" and "important" regarding current issues, those being climate change, pollution, and other man-based ravages of the planet.
First Reformed is actually a dark and brooding slow burn that at the last moment reveals the power of love. Far from boring, the writing contains profundity within nearly every scene. The cinematography and direction, in particular, were perfect for the subject matter. The acting was also commendable for the task of such a monumental statement about spiritual crisis.
This film was ultimately about how only love can save the world, which everyone who has ever read the Bible from cover to cover can confirm. If you watch to the end (no spoilers here, I promise) you will notice something Toller does that is a last minute epiphany regarding the horribly misguided and wrongheaded path he had taken.
Despair can come in many different forms, and clearly Toller was a tortured soul from the moment his son died, and in his desperate search for meaning, he mistakenly took on an evil quest that was contrary to his own personal beliefs.
First Reformed is aptly named. Toller's grace arrived not by making a
radical statement, but in taking an outstretched hand... and that is
always the first step toward redemption. Even the song being sung during
the final scene underscores this message.
There are many hints in the film that my interpretation is appropriate,
such as the young pregnant widow named Mary, the friend named Esther
who attempts to foil the tragedy of Toller's self-neglect, and the child that the biological father thought was
going to be a daughter turned out to be a son instead. I get the feeling
after one viewing that there were a lot more allegories involved than I
happened to notice.
In a limited sense, Toller is comparable to Job, as his apparent
suffering and outcome is similar in what he lost compared to what he
gained. This was God once again working in mysterious ways, and the
glory of the transition is easy to miss if one gets too wrapped up in
the dark and controversial aspects of the story.
Some choleric environmentalists may prefer to interpret this movie as a testimony to mankind's destruction of the planet, but in fact that detail is merely a convenient plot device. There are more important things in life than deciding to believe that the world will be in shambles by the year 2050.