Week 10 Prompt: Juxtapositions (A Look at “First Reformed”)

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There are a number of reasons to like this movie: for me, the first three would be Ethan Hawke, ETHAN Hawke and ETHAN HAWKE!!! And for my friend who recommended this movie, it’s Amanda Seyfried.

But if you are a huge fan of plot-driven films, this may not be your cup of tea. My friend thought this movie ran for 3 hours when it’s only less than 2 hours long.

The pacing is a little slow, even camera movements are predominantly slow. As I don’t have expertise in film, I can only say that as a viewer, I find the slowness a reflection of how Reverend Toller (Ethan Hawke) seems to be living his life — one day at a time, hardly any movement or willingness to move on.

Light and Darkness/Shadow

There are several shots of the very white and neat exterior of the First Reformed Church in broad daylight, and probably the same number of shots of the dark bedroom of Reverend Toller. Sometimes there’s only one candle lighting the whole room. To me this  reinforces idea of the duality in his personality in how he presents himself to the outside world (one who has strong faith, knows how to deal with all kinds of people) and how he really feels and thinks about himself. He leads the service on Sundays, even though on his own, he says he is incapable of praying. (To me, though, his writing in his journal is an act of prayer.)

Hope and Despair

When Reverend Toller speaks with Michael, he speaks against despair. Ironically in the end, he fails to rescue Michael from that despair which turns out to be infectious as he, himself, tries to end his own life.

Mary, on the other hand, is the epitome of hope in her own quiet way — despite grieving the loss of her husband, she looks forward to having the baby that Michael had wanted her to abort.

Interior and Exterior

Reverend Toller on the outside, exemplifies calm and composure, just like the ultra neat and white exterior of the church, but inside he is full of turmoil and uncertainty. His soul probably needs as much cleansing as his broken toilet that needs unclogging. And that metaphor becomes literal when he tries to use the drain cleaner to kill himself.

This duality is quite common. How many people do you know whose actions have surprised you as they are “out of character”? With Reverend Toller, however, there is dramatic irony— the audience are amply prepared for his decision to end his life, but the people around him are not.

Perhaps the one idea from this film that I liked best is restraint. Reverend Toller’s attraction to Mary is developed quite subtly. At first he seems to be simply a very dedicated pastor helping out a parishioner. But one scene that made me certain he is falling for her is that of the two of them cycling and, as he writes in his journal, “I had not been on a bicycle, I think, in 20 years. I was afraid I would fall.” And he went to muse on the curative power of exercise. There is a look of pure joy on his face as they bike on the trail.

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Spiritual, though not as religious as Esther, Mary brings out the spiritual in Reverend Toller. With her, he can pray with words and with his soul. Yet, he has to restrain himself in his attraction to her. This he is able to do for a while, but after Mary appears before him as he is about to drink the drain cleaner, that restraint finally gives way to full expression in an embrace and a long kiss. This last scene is my favorite part — the feeling of finally letting out what you have been holding in for a long time is more than liberating. It’s exhilarating.

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For me, this movie is simply another reason to love Ethan Hawke.

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Introspection thru “Predestination”

I got this photo from this site

I got this photo from this site.

Science-fiction is not really my favorite genre, but my friend was sure I would like Predestination because (1) It’s an Ethan Hawke movie, and (2) he thought it was a mind-blowing film.

I certainly do not regret watching this movie because there are a couple of things I like about it, apart from THE Ethan Hawke (who still looks as gorgeous as when he was in his 20’s! Dang!)

It may be an Ethan Hawke movie, and he is great in it (as he is always in his movies), but I find Sarah Snook’s performance impressive. My favorite scene in the movie is when she as the androgynous Unmarried Mother (looking like Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic) speaks with her young self, and her face is filled with emotions of love, understanding, compassion — all blending together in that facial expression of hers. Of course, I admit that part of that is merely my own perception. But in my humble opinion, she did a magnificent job in this movie.

The last movie I saw and wrote about was Interstellar, another science-fiction film I did not expect to like but ended up liking so much. I liked the interpersonal relationships present in Interstellar – the character’s relationship with his children and with his fellow astronauts. But, as a person fond of introspection, I liked the intrapersonal relationship the character of Predestination had with himself/herself at different periods in his/her life.

My very limited understanding of physics (I didn’t really listen to my teacher), and science-fiction and the ideas of time-travel and the predestination paradox  perhaps limits my understanding of the movie, but I will not spend another night trying to reconstruct the sequence of events in the movie. I am content to focus on the ideas that caught my attention. I do not totally understand it, but there are certain things that like about it and that made me think.

Revenge

What if I could put him in front of you? The man that ruined your life? If I could guarantee that you’d get away with it, would you kill him?

Would you avenge yourself on the person that ruined your life, if you were assured it could be done with impunity? Hopefully none of my readers have their lives terribly ruined by somebody that they would want to end that somebody’s life, but how about revenge?

“Nemo me impune lacessit.” No one harms me with impunity.

An eye for an eye. A tooth for a tooth. There is no such thing as throwing back a piece or bread (or mantou) to someone who threw stones at you.

Forgiveness, that abstraction that is quite easy to speak about (especially if the one speaking of it is not involved in the situation where it is being sought) is extremely difficult to translate into action. Hence, people often seek revenge for every pain that another person caused them.

But upon closer examination, what does one get from revenge? Is there joy that comes in having avenged oneself? Can one sleep better at night knowing another person is now suffering from one’s revenge?

The irony in the Unmarried Mother’s desire to avenge herself was that she was the transgressor herself. When she found out that it was herself all along that ruined her own life, then she felt compassion towards and even loved herself.

I would look at transgression in two ways: one can endeavor to be empathetic and see things from the point of view of the transgressor and understand why he did what he did. Or, one can accept the fact that no one can ever transgress anyone with impunity. Not even as an act of revenge. Countries have laws. People have conscience. When you hurt other people, you hurt yourself as well. (Or am I wrong? Are there “normal” or “typical” people who rejoice when others suffer, people who have nothing but Schadenfreude in their hearts?)

Jane/John as the bartender, however, could not forgive himself as the Fizzle Bomber and shot him. The same person who was able to understand and accept the one who ruined his/her life, could not forgive himself for killing other people.

Question for Introspection 1:

Is it easier to forgive the harm we brought upon ourselves, than it is to forgive the evil we brought upon others?

Narcissism

Growing up, Jane felt she was a freak, that she was ugly. She even stopped looking at herself in the mirror. This self-loathing became even worse when she found out she had the rare condition of having both male and female reproductive organs and was left with no choice but to undergo surgery to become male.

But when Jane who is now a man with the pseudonym Unmarried Mother goes back to her/his past and meets her/his young self, she/he says to her/him, “You’re beautiful.” She/he falls in love with herself/himself and even has a baby.

(Now this just came to mind as I was typing the previous sentence: isn’t that the same idea as the Divine Trinity? The Father , Son and Holy Ghost? Which came first?)

Question for Introspection 2:

If it were possible to see yourself from the eyes of someone from the opposite sex, do you think you would fall in love with yourself? Do you have the traits that you find attractive, enough to fall in love with another person?

We sometimes love ourselves and sometimes hate ourselves. But to fall in love with oneself, this is something I have only read about or seen in movies. I still have to meet somebody who admits he or she is in love with himself or herself.

Question for Introspection 3:

If you could meet with your 20-year old self (I’m assuming my readers are at least in their 30’s!) what would you say to him/her?

Would you be kind and perhaps encourage yourself? Or would you warn yourself of the many mistakes you would be making? Or would you tell yourself, “There’s nothing to look forward to.”

And what do you think your 20-year old self would say to you? “Nice job! I can’t wait to become you”? Or, “Uh-oh!”

Self-loathing

It is interesting how people can love and hate themselves at the same time. We love certain qualities about ourselves, and hate other qualities that we possess and wish we could change ourselves.

Through time-travel, John is able to meet with his future self, the Fizzle Bomber who has killed thousands of people. When John comes face to face with the Fizzle Bomber, he says with loathing, “I will never become you!” And shoots him.

We have no way of knowing what we will be like 20 years from now. But we can look back at our lives and see what we have become.

Question for Introspection 4:

What do you think a 20-year old you would say to the present you if he/she could speak to you now? Will he/she say: You’re doing a great job! Or will he/she say, “I will never become you” and….

Like I said, I do not totally understand this film, but it’s an Ethan Hawke movie that got me thinking, so I like it. This movie, perhaps, had an effect on me, and when you read what I’ve written, maybe it will have an effect on you, too. Hopefully a good one.

“When a butterfly flutters its wings in one part of the world, it can eventually cause a hurricane in another…” – Edward Lorenz