First Reformed: What Does The Ending Really Mean?

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

First Reformed Ethan Hawke
A24

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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Contributor

Stay at home dad who spends as much time teaching his kids the merits of Martin Scorsese as possible (against the missus' wishes). General video game, TV and film nut. Occasional sports fan. Full time loon.