When I first saw First Reformed, I spent weeks thinking about it. I thought about the looming, apocalyptic threat of climate change, and my own lapsed faith. I thought about how Ethan Hawke, in his role as the tortured Reverend Ernst Toller, masterfully embodied a man straining under the burdens of true despair and hopelessness. And I thought about how much Ethan Hawke in clerical clothing was, unfortunately, “doing it for me.”
When Oscar nominations were released on Tuesday morning, I hoped and expected the film to have a healthy showing. It was beloved by many, critically lauded, and the environmental theme was especially pertinent to these times. While writer and director Paul Schrader did receive his first-ever Academy Award nomination in the Original Screenplay category, he was unceremoniously passed over for Best Picture and Best Director. Most surprising of all, First Reformed didn’t get a Best Actor nomination for Hawke (see: my Vulture colleague Hunter Harris’s passionate screed, “Justice for Ethan Hawke and Ethan Hawke’s Forehead Wrinkle”).
While none of us can know the mind of God, this seemed like a particularly egregious snub. And though I’ve tried not to waste too much mental energy on awards shows since Crash won best picture in 2004, I’ve since done some soul-searching about this disappointment. Like Reverend Toller, I’ve journaled (wrote a tweet) and prayed (retweeted another tweet). What I’ve come to realize is that First Reformed is the perfect film to be snubbed — being ignored at the Academy Awards is simply a natural continuation of its themes of suffering. Every spectacularly pained expression at the altar, every reminder that the earth is being ravaged, every anguished attempt at drinking drain cleaner, stretching on and on toward this moment. It’s also a poetic prolongation of Ethan Hawke’s suffering, when it comes to taking acting extremely seriously for over 30 years and never winning an Oscar.
And, mostly, the memes about it were just really good:
So, will God forgive the Academy? For this, perhaps. But nominating Green Book is a different story.