PopPolitics: Paul Schrader on How ‘First Reformed’ Reflects His Own Despair Over Climate Crisis (Listen)

WASHINGTON — One of the themes in Paul Schrader’s “First Reformed” is how humans grapple with despair at a time when the climate crisis leaves little room for hope.

Ethan Hawke portrays Reverend Toller, a minister in a small upstate New York parish who tries to counsel a radical environmentalist Michael (Philip Ettinger), who sees only darkness in the future of the planet. As he tries to help his pregnant wife (Amanda Seyfried), Toller finds himself descending into his own bleak sense of the environment.

“It is very easy to fall into despair, and you have to make a decision not to,” Schrader tells Variety‘s “PopPolitics” on SiriusXM. “When you look at humanity and our species, it seems very clear that we have made our decision, and we are going to let this impending disaster run its course.”

He adds, “The thing that everyone kind of ignores is the exponential nature of this. All of the bad things that happened in the last 20 years, can now happen in the next five. Once these equations of climate — once they start moving, they interact.”

First Reformed” is so far one of the best reviewed movies of the year, and it is certainly one that stirs an intensity of reaction. At an MPAA screening at the National Archives on Thursday, Schrader answered questions from the audience afterward that included a mix of topics, from filmmaking technique to the influence of “Taxi Driver” to one viewer, who asked him bluntly, “Are you in despair?” Schrader’s answer was yes.

“Anyone who is optimistic at this moment hasn’t been paying attention,” he says. “There’s not a lot to be optimistic about, both in the long-range and the short-range. We are seeing this exponential rate of change.”

He says he can have hope, but “you have to choose.”

The movie was made in a breakneck 20 days, at a budget of about $3.5 million.

Those are tight parameters, but Schrader doubts that he would have been able to make his movie otherwise.

“A few years ago you saw the economics change and the cost of filmmaking dropping enormously,” he says, adding that because of the improvements in technology, “You get more raw footage in 20 days than you used to get in 50. You never stop shooting.”
He admits that he is a “little surprised” at the reaction to the movie so far, “because the films I have made tend to polarize people. They are meant to polarize people in a way. So i have never had a film that had such a one-sided positive reaction.”
Listen below:
“PopPolitics,” hosted by Variety’s Ted Johnson, airs from 2-3 pm ET/11 am-noon PT on SiriusXM’s political channel POTUS. It also is available on demand.

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