First Reformed: What Does The Ending Really Mean?

Decoding Paul Schrader's tricky, Oscar-nominated drama.

First Reformed Ethan Hawke

Paul Schrader's drama First Reformed was one of 2018's most provocative and unforgettable movies, an entrancing character study of a Protestant minister (Ethan Hawke) whose faith is questioned in light of immense personal and professional turmoil.

Though Hawke's career-best work was bafflingly snubbed for a Best Actor Oscar nomination, the film did at least receive a Best Original Screenplay nod for Schrader's incisive script.

First Reformed asks challenging questions of its audience about faith, mental illness, life and death, and this culminates in an ambiguous, much-debated ending sequence.

Like any filmmaker worth his salt, though, Schrader has refused to give fans a concrete explanation for the film's final moments, and so the burden instead falls to viewers to parse those puzzling closing images for themselves.

But by taking a close reading of the film, poring back over the ending again and even factoring in the entirety of Schrader's own career, we can arrive at something approaching a reasonable explanation of what that surreal climax really means...


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