Paul Schrader on the Extinction of the Human Race and His New Film ‘First Reformed’

Paul Schrader: The Human Race is
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It’s no surprise that Paul Schrader, a filmmaker associated with such dark classics as “Taxi Driver” and “American Gigolo,” has a pessimistic streak. But it’s still bracing to hear him argue that humanity, as we know it, is unlikely to last through the next century.

In an interview at the Toronto Film Festival, Schrader said he believes that global warming is accelerating at such a rate that there’s little that can be done to arrest the ecological changes. His Cassandra-like streak informs “First Reformed,” his new drama that’s been screening to strong reviews at the fall festivals. The film grapples with issues of faith while also sounding a warning about the destruction of the natural world. It follows Ethan Hawke as a small-town priest who toys with becoming a suicide bomber in the service of a radical form of environmentalism. Schrader spoke to Variety about religion in film, working with Hawke, and why he believes the world will be well rid of the human race.

Why did you decide to make this film?

I’d been an admirer and a student of spirituality in movies. I’d written a book on the subject, but I never really thought that I’d work in that direction. I liked action and empathy and sexuality — things outside the spiritual toolkit. But I always had admiration and interest in films that were more contemplative. About two and a half years ago I was speaking to Pawel Pawlikowski, who directed “Ida,” and we were talking about the new economics of filmmaking and how it might be possible to make a film like that in this country. Now the technology is allowing us to cut the budgets substantially. When I left dinner with him, I thought it’s time for you to make one of these movies. You said you would and now it’s time.

Your film doesn’t just grapple with faith. It’s also about the environment. What interested you about that topic?

We have this contemporary crisis of ecology, which takes all the historic, philosophic questions of meaning and puts them in boldface. Man has always wondered whether life has any meaning and what comes after death. Now that we can sort of see the end of the role in the physical world the questions have an added urgency.

You’ve been screening the picture at Toronto and other festivals as the U.S. is being buffeted by Hurricanes Irma and Harvey. Does that drive the point home more for you?

I wouldn’t isolate these events. They’re part of the new normal. It’s not just hurricanes. The icebergs are falling into the seas. California’s on fire. It’s an accelerating process.

Related

First Reformed Movie Review

Venice Film Review: ‘First Reformed’

I would think that homo sapiens as we know them will not outlive this century. When they create a great museum of the animal world, hopefully the filmmakers will get a room.

That’s a very pessimistic view. Is there any reason to be hopeful or are we just screwed?

Anyone who is hopeful is simply not paying attention. There may have been a reason to be hopeful ten or 15 years ago, but we’ve played our hand now. We’ve indicated what our priorities are. Our priorities are our immediate comforts and not the existence of future generations. I don’t think intelligent life will end with humans. There may even be moral life after humans. But we have more or less soiled our nest. The universe will be well rid of us.

What is the difference between spiritual films, of the sort you described earlier, and so-called faith-based films?

The so-called faith based film is not much different than a typical Hollywood film. It’s all based on emotion. It’s all based on manipulation. I will make you feel threatened, so you can feel relief. I will make you feel sad, so you can feel happy. It will play the music for you. I will have the characters do this and that. I will have the editing do this and that. You will think that you’ve actually had an experience, but it’s all pressing buttons. That’s what movies do and the faith-based movies just do it with the subject of Jesus. They’re really no different than any other manipulative kind of movie.

There’s another kind of movie. It seeks not to put its hand on your throat and force you to listen and feel. It leans away from you and asks you to come toward it. Sometimes these are called contemplative films or spiritual films or slow films. The power of this kind of film is that it puts the viewer in motion rather than letting the viewer be totally passive.

How is new technology, like digital cameras, changing filmmaking?

The films that took 45 or 50 days to make when I started now take 20 days. The price drops, so you can make films about subject matters that would have been prohibitively expensive to make. That’s the good news. The bad news is you can make a film for $50,000 and you can lose $50,000, because nobody sees it. We’re now making so many different films that it’s becoming very difficult to monetize. For 100 years movies had a special relationship with capitalism, which made them the exception to the artistic norm. The rule was if you will come to see it we’ll make it for you. That made it possible for movies to be very successful. Movies made money, unlike any other form of art. Music doesn’t make money. Painting doesn’t make money. Writing doesn’t make money. How many painters make a living? Five percent? How many writers make a living? But filmmakers made a living. We were lucky, but now technology has broken that special relationship and now we’re just like any other starving artist. We can make movies a lot cheaper, but it’s much harder to make a living.

Why was Ethan Hawke right for this role?

When you write about a script you try not to think about an actor because it makes you a lazy writer. You hear that actor doing your dialogue. But while writing it I saw Ethan’s face and his physiognomy. I realized he’s the right age and look. Casting is really a matter of catching an actor or actress with the right story at the right point in their life more than it is about their skills. If they’re cast right, their skills will blossom. If they’re cast wrong, there’s nothing their skills can do.

Do you want your movies to be seen on the big screen? Do you care if people watch your films on their tablets or phones?

No. The artists should not be dictating the tools. They should be using the tools. If that tool is a small screen than use it.

You are seen as one of the preeminent filmmakers of the 1970’s and people view that era as a renaissance in American film. Do you agree with that assessment?

It certainly is overhyped in terms of the quality of the films. We made a lot of bad films in the ’70’s, both technically and artistically. Something that was happening in the late ’60s and early ’70s that made the movies so great was that movies were in the center of the cultural conversation. Whether it was civil rights or sexual freedom or drug experimentation or the war in Vietnam or gay rights, movies defined the conversation. So movies like “Coming Home” or “MASH,” we were in the center of the debate, so therefore movies were important. When Americans talked about America they often talked in terms of the movies. When movies are important, important movies get made. Now we don’t think they’re very important and it’s hard to get important movies made because people don’t look to the movies for answers the way they did.

It was a unique period in the history of motion pictures. It’s not a cyclical thing. It’s not going to come back. The confluence of post-World War II events, the baby boomers coming of age, created a golden decade for movies. It was the times, it wasn’t the talent.

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  1. Marck says:

    What an evil boomer.

  2. Atlasobjectivist says:

    So insightful, he must be a genius…. what a dork.

  3. sheesh says:

    Thanks for your opinion, Paul. I’ll tack it on the wall right next to that of my barber.

  4. PTA Fluffer says:

    The warming effect that’s melting the glaciers will disrupt the great “conveyer belt” in the Atlantic (ie the undersea jet stream), resulting in a massive cool down and creeping ice age. I’m surprised more Drudge Report readers calling out Schrader don’t know this, since they seem to know so much… or are most of them here today trolls…?

    • Atlasobjectivist says:

      So just to be clear – if it warms up, it’s validation for climate change? If it cools down, it is validation for climate change… and the only way to fight it, is to take more of my money. Got it, gosh, wish I was intelligent like you….

  5. Jlorenzen says:

    DLevin. Which green house gasses are you talking about? I do though agree with you that population growth is a problem. Politicians do have a solution though. The rich are gearing up for it and the NWO has been prepared for years. The war will reduce the population by a few billion. And the climate change you speak of. Most likely a nuclear winter.

  6. Tyra says:

    Yes, because when I want scientific news and information…I wonder what a movie guy says.
    (Can you hear all the indignation that I didn’t say “film”?

  7. D.Levin says:

    Schrader is a nut. The largest contribution to greenhouse gas and ecological damage — by far — is population growth. It is actually the poorest areas that are seeing the larges increases in ecological destruction. And those of us who work in advance tech fields know that there will be tech in 30 to 50 years to fully adjust greenhouse gasses down to any level we want. WE have tech to have any ratio fo greenhouse gases we just need to get it up to in scale and efficiency, not turn the lights out and cower like babies. And the humanity will undergo profound changes in 50 to 100 years — we will be fully directing our own evolution.

  8. bvikay says:

    That will make all enviornmental wackos very happy. Of course, the death of the human race will include them. These people really need to return to their rubber room at the asylum.

  9. “But we have more or less soiled our nest. The universe will be well rid of us.”

    Truer words have never been spoken.

  10. What is it about these Hollywood morons that gives them the idea that anyone cares one damn about what they have to say? To the vast majority of Americans ,they are little more than low-brow artsy-fartsy emotional piss-ants.

  11. Gabriel says:

    Wow. First the left hates America….and now they hate ALL MANKIND? Meanwhile, their misguided Mentors lay up in their mansions telling their minions to hate EVERYTHING. Life can be beautiful…..IF you let it. Honest.

  12. Bruce Nolen says:

    I predict that that people who predict things they will not live long enough to take responsibility for will be found 99.9 % full of crap.😎

  13. Glen Clark says:

    I’m so glad God is in charge.

  14. Consultofactus says:

    And Hollywood wonders why movie attendance has tanked…..

  15. JeffC says:

    Smarmy, self absorbed and out of touch. Pretty much describes the entertainment class. I have better things to do with my time than feed these egos

  16. Paul Russell says:

    This is just scaremongering to compete with Gore’s economically viable lies on film. I grew up in Boston in the 60’s and 70’s. Back then all the “big brains” at Harvard, MIT, Northeastern, and the plethora of other colleges and universities in the area were screaming about Global Cooling and overpopulation (when they weren’t ranting about nuke power plants). We were all supposed to be dead or dying by now.

  17. ragu4u says:

    Give me Ethan Hawke in “Training Day” or “Insidious” but a priest? Not a good idea.

  18. GMOs are a good first step toward extinction.

  19. Elitists like him always moan and groan about the end of the world, but I don’t see them in a hurry to end their own lives. Nope, they just preach at the rest of us from the haughty places on high. Paul Ehrlich was wrong, and so is this Hollyweird mouthpiece.

  20. Ernie Ball says:

    The hubris in Hollywood and Washington, D.C. is thick…they think they are the world’s savior and only they can stop the world from ending…by regulating the Earth’s temperature like a thermostat.

  21. Mike Arvand says:

    No, they likely won’. Not if the muslims have their way.

  22. Jack R. says:

    He and Al Gore must be more than just buddies.

  23. Pat Riot says:

    Good grief. Spare us your histrionics, Mr. Schrader.

    “The Arctic ocean is warming up, icebergs are growing scarcer and in some places the seals are finding the water too hot, according to a report to the Commerce Department yesterday from Consulafft, at Bergen, Norway.

    Reports from fishermen, seal hunters and explorers all point to a radical change in climate conditions and hitherto unheard-of temperatures in the Arctic zone. Exploration expeditions report that scarcely any ice has been met as far north as 81 degrees 29 minutes. Soundings to a depth of 3,100 meters showed the gulf stream still very warm. Great masses of ice have been replaced by moraines of earth and stones, the report continued, while at many points well known glaciers have entirely disappeared.

    Very few seals and no white fish are found in the eastern Arctic, while vast shoals of herring and smelts which have never before ventured so far north, are being encountered in the old seal fishing grounds.”

    – November 2, 1922 AP/Washington Post

  24. d0ct0rj says:

    Schrader’s ridiculous prediction can be added to the pile of other brilliant prophecies: “The atomic bomb will never go off, and I speak as an expert in explosives.” (Admiral Leahy), “The Beatles have no future in show business.” (Brian Epstein), and “This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication.” (William Orton).

    • Bruce Nolen says:

      My favorite is when they were thinking of opening a patent office some politician said that one was not needed because “everything that can be invented has been invented “. I think in the late 1800’s.

  25. TK Stoke says:

    Well then, we don’t need to worry about “climate change” do we.

  26. Richard says:

    We are all going to be bored to death by these hysterical dribbling liberals.

  27. Ilya Makarov says:

    Just another left-wing, hypocritical kook. It’s nice to see that most commenters recognize this fact.

  28. “global warming is accelerating at such a rate that there’s little that can be done to arrest the ecological changes”

    i think he meant to say….”reporting on global warming by the media is accelerating at such a pace that there’s little that can be done to arrest the psychological changes in snowflake hollywood brains. “

  29. I wonder if Mr. Schrader feels so strongly about his perceived views of our ‘impending doom’ that he self-financed this movie. I mean,if your convictions are that strong, then no doubt you are willing to stake your personal finances on the movie’s success right? My guess is he didn’t.

  30. Sam says:

    Just another Jahovah’s witness at your door… YAWN!

  31. michael says:

    The experts can not even green and maintain any deserts in the world and they think they can correct the climate on a global scale? Before taking billions from us and putting restrictions on our businesses and jobs let’s see the expert green the Sahara

  32. People listen up there is hope if we all take public transportation, turn off the A/C and switch to a vegan diet. Then the earth will cool and we can live in harmony with nature, /s

  33. Wen Glaser says:

    It was the times not the talent? Hmm. I don’t think the times are the issue actually with dive in cinema. What is affecting cinema now is the intellectual elitism the “talent” exhibit in public. The contempt the Hollywood players show for a majority of would be movie goers is turning audiences off. That contempt permiates the storylines and dialogue as well. As far as earth being well rid of humanity, why is it guys like this keep hanging around then? Rid the earth of the burden and choose euthanasia. Oh, right, he means deplorables not elites.

  34. Mike says:

    Fascinating interview. Schrader is on the one had totally cynical in his assessment of movie making–it’s all manipulation–and at the same time pitching the notion of movie making as art. Wrap this in a “connect the dots inaccurately” approach to climate science and you end up with a very conflicted person. This is a great interview…it certainly reveals Schrader as some kind of moon bat. Good job Lang.

  35. Mike Bambino says:

    What an ignorant concept. this guy is a con man.

  36. Lee says:

    Boo! Most of us will be dead by the end of this century.

  37. DudeFromDixie says:

    Never heard of this nut. The arrogance of anyone to believe that global warming is going to wipe out the planet. Better be more worried about ISIS getting a nuke or Kim Jung Fatboy attacking Japan or Seoul.

  38. stonehillady says:

    One thing about religion, especially the Judeo/Christian religion that people don’t seem to realize is that it kept a moral code for the masses for a very long time. With that moral code now disintegrating, we will be headed like the fallen civilization that had no respect for human life like the Aztecs. the Mayans, who sacrificed life to their pagan gods. Today those gods can be interpreted as the God of science and personal pleasure. Need I talk about Sodom and Gomorrah.

  39. MH Thomas says:

    My first thought was “who is Shrader”. Turns out, he is a Director from Canada so, of course, he would know how long the human race will survive. Didn’t read the article except to note the title of his pic, so I can be sure to not see it.

  40. larrybud says:

    What a nut!

  41. Fred Ward says:

    Oh look, there’s a Hollywood person with a “controversial” opinion. Yawn. Making films doesn’t make you an expert on anything but making films. My plumber does good work, but he thinks alien lizard people have taken over the government.

  42. El Duderino says:

    this guy wrote a couple of good screenplyas forty years back. the movies he has directed have been universally horrible. I care about as much fonhis opinion as I do. a Third Grader’s

  43. Raymond Sanchez says:

    What a naysayer of human indenuity man will servive have serviced worse

  44. SoTx Joe says:

    …and global warming was supposed to have wiped us out twenty years ago. i’m so tired of this alarmist BS. #fakenews #fakecelebrity #fakeeverything

  45. Blade of Reason says:

    This man is a total hysteric. He completely ignores the advances mankind has made in the last 100 years and accelerating unabated in energy, technology, robotics, etc. such that we could experience dramatic breakthroughs that address many of his environmental concerns. He’s “stuck” in the present gloom point of view that is in many ways “childish”, limited, and destructive.

    If there is one thing we know, things will change, innovation will drive it, and things will improve environmentally.

  46. Jorge Rogers says:

    “If that tool is a small screen than use it.”

    Excuse me, Brent Lang Senior Film and Media Editor:
    If the interviewee said it, is it not too much to spell a small word like ‘then” correctly, as it was dictated to you?

  47. Bad Penguin says:

    I hate it when actors and directors put out their tripe on political and environmental issues. It sounds like Paul wants the entire human race to die off. Probably everyone but him of course. I’ll bet he lives in a very big house that uses a lot of energy and drives a gas guzzler. I also can help but wonder about the carbon footprint of the movie he made that few will watch.

  48. Jack Foobar says:

    This is like asking Obama about running a business. California won’t survive the next Century, but the rest of us will.

  49. Redmond Walker says:

    “Climate Change” is a un-proven, convoluted, left-winged, Canaanite, Freemason driven movement designed to promote the vile, “Open Borders” agenda. It is specifically targeted America because the “Masters Of The Media” want to try and put the final “nail in the coffin” in American nationalism and BLEED Americans dry in order to try and break America’s back. Now that they (Obama, The Clintons, Durbin, Pelosi, Soros, Shoooo-mer and other American traitors) have put their foot on the necks of the American Middle class, they want to try to use the “Climate Change” argument as a way to bankrupt Americans. Odd, that they WORST offenders China, India, Africa, Russia. and developing and under-developed countries are being ignored as they truly pollute their country-wide and region-wide landscapes.

    Take a trip around the world and you will see this first hand. America has done so much in the last 50 years to clean-up it’s environment. Heck, 50 years ago, LA was a smog-pit and the San Fernando Valley was drenched in air pollution…..these days, more times than not…the environment is cleaner.

    A great example is (I have been involved in global assessments of automobiles’ effects on climate for 40 years) the “grand illusion” that electric cars are the cars of today and tomorrow. The movement toward this approach will be devastating to the environment because of the number of NEW power-plants needed to charge those types of vehicles will be insane. China is opening NEW coal (dirty coal) electric generating plants almost daily. Moreover, the carbon footprint of an electric car is 200 times dirtier than a gas powered car because of the processes need to make the lithium batteries…..it is beyond filthy. And the disposal of these batteries is going to be an environmental nightmare.

    So, beware my friends, people like this “director” and his “buddies” are trying to spread propaganda and brain washing people with this non-sense. And what they are proposing will make the world a worse place.

    Environmental issues are best controlled by teaching individuals to be aware of their independent footprints and to conserve and be “conserve-ative” in their life-styles on a daily basis.

    Doubt it? Well then, why is there such a huge amount of pushback in hydrogen powered cars that give people the mobility and extended use they are used to with gas-powered cars? Ahhh, because hydrogen is cheap and their “ain’t the money in it that they others forms of of so-called vehicle solutions” offer.

    Doubt this…..then do some real bi-partisan research. For example, Mercedes just came out and said they could NOT make and sell electric cars UNLESS they got the government Subsidies! Yeah, and people are NOT flocking to buy these cars because they are expensive and impractical…. EXCEPT in the Sci-Fi minds of the demented socialists and left-wingers.

    To wit I say, BUDDY…..clean up your own garden….I’ll take care of mine…… thank you and “bind your tongue” and go back and make some YouTube movies about changing wax-seals on toilets…..etc…..etc…..etc…….

    • Bad Penguin says:

      Well said. BTW the oceans are not rising as the left claims Its simply the earths crust returning to its original shape after the end of the last ice age. Below is a link to a Columbia University paper written originally in the 90’s that shows how in the last 80 million years the shore line in New Jersey has ranged from the edge of the continental shelf (110 miles out to sea now) to the area Harrisburg, Pa. is at.

      http://www.columbia.edu/cu/21stC/issue-2.3/krumenaker.html

  50. aominous2000 says:

    Are we supposed to listen to a film maker about ecology and faith? Good for Variety to get an expert opinion.
    Perhaps next week he will give cooking tips?
    Hardly seems newsworthy.

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