Sunday, July 01, 2018

First Reformed and Journal Writing

Image result for first reformed

I went to see the film First Reformed by myself yesterday, something I almost never do but my partner in movie-watching was out of town. It turned out to be a bleak but fascinating experience which should have occurred with someone else to have a discussion about the various narratives of the film, along with the totally unexpected ending.

Ethan Hawke plays Reverend Ernst Toller, the middle-aged pastor of a failing rural congregation which exists mainly as a tourist attraction and survives only because of the sponsorship of a nearby megachurch. This benevolence is one of the least believable aspects of the story. Hawke is a remarkable actor whose work in Boyhood and Maudie is exceptional. He doesn't let us down in First Reformed, embodying the solitary, conflicted Christian minister who is haunted by loss, including the end of his marriage. Alcoholism and serious illness  are also spectres in his life.

I will address the important environmental theme of the film in my Groundling blog but a detail of First Reformed intrigued me. Toller begins the endeavour of keeping a personal journal for a year to record his deepest thoughts, and it is both a confessional and a form of prayer. He decides to hand-write this journal rather than record his musings on his laptop. At times he chooses to rip pages from the lined book he is using because he is so dissatisfied with what he has written, even though his plan is to burn the journal after a year.

I have kept a personal journal for more than 33 years, missing only six or seven days during that period of time. Unlike Rev. Toller I have never destroyed a single page of the nondescript lined notebooks I use and I now have 75 or so ferreted away in boxes. My journals have been to Israel and Iceland, Britain and Cuba. They have accompanied me on canoe trips and structured retreats and even to the hospital when I had surgery.

Each day when I write I also record the time of day, the weather, what creatures I see. I wish I could claim that my daily entries are profound but most of what I pen is mundane. I try to include a note of gratitude but I often fail in the regard. I don't go back to read them and I will eventually destroy them all.

Jacob Wrestling the Angel --Edward Knippers

So why write in a journal in this seemingly archaic manner? It is an exercise in reflection, attention, choosing to physically put pen to paper in a way that is prayerful and honest -- at least some of the time. Rev. Toller reflects in passing about being like Jacob, wrestling the angel or God or whoever it is in that equally perplexing biblical story. Journal writing is certainly like that for me, at least at times.

I do recommend seeing First Reformed, although not on a day when you're melancholy! Watch it with someone else and then have a spirited conversation about what the hell happened.

Has anyone else seen it?


Unknown said...

I considered seeing it but was afraid it might be too depressing - and might remind me of some of my past religious experiences .... which I have happily ut behind me ! I would definitely need to have an intelligent person to discuss with afterwards

roger said...

Not commenting on the movie but on one of your statements - perhaps give some serious thought before you destroy all of your journals. As my Dad is in his final years or less, I would have loved it if he had written journals throughout his life. They may seem mundane but would give me some insight into what he was experiencing before I came along. Your journals could be passed on to future generations. Just a thought...unless you need a U Haul to transport them!