‘First Reformed’ – Film Review and Analysis

Man’s struggle with God can almost be as endearing yet painful as his struggle against man. If there is one way to sum up the excellent film, ‘First Reformed’, that would be it. First Reformed (2017) focuses on the environment, one’s faith, and the struggle to find hope when things seem rather bleak. “Can God forgive us for what we’ve done to the world?”, a troubled environmental activist asks Pastor Ernst Toller and the Pastor replies to his congregant, “Who can know the mind of God?”

While this movie did not receive any Oscar awards, the acting by Ethan Hawke (Pastor Ernst Toller) and also by Amanda Seyfried (Mary) is excellent as well as the cinematography, the adapted screenplay by Director Paul Schrader which helps this film earn its critical acclaim and some Independent Spirit award nominations as well as one Academy Award nomination. I still believe Mr. Hawke was snubbed from getting an Oscar nomination since this film’s performance was one of the best he has ever done and deserved more praise. In many of his films, I find him to be one of the best actors of his generation and able to produce genuine emotion regardless of the situation his character finds himself in.

In ‘First Reformed’, Reverend Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke) finds himself faced with difficult questions surrounding his faith, morality, the environment in 2017, and what lies ahead in the future for humanity. These are weighty questions for anyone to deal with let alone a pillar of a community like Toller finds himself to be in Snowbridge, New York as the head pastor for the colonial era First Reformed church that dates back to the time of British colonization and the underground railroad movement later on.

This historical church is seen to be losing its membership and interest and Pastor Toller has to resort to touristic gimmicks and a small gift shop to help make ends meet to keep the church going. There is a noticeable parallel to the decline of Christianity in terms of active members of the Christian church in the United States so a fictional movie such as this one has some real-life parallels that seem plausible. The crisis of faith in churches in certain communities has a coinciding similarity with Toller’s own faith in God and in himself. He is an alcoholic struggling to find meaning and purpose in his life at the beginning of the film.

While making the church more touristy, he has also made the church more spiritual as well instead of its Calvinist origins. He sticks more to sermons than to scriptures and has enlisted the financial backing and ownership of an evangelical megachurch in nearby Albany, New York, which is likely to take over the church in the near future much to Toller’s apprehension. As we go through the film, we peel back the curtain on who this pastor is and like any of us, he has his own personal flaws and past sins but has also suffered for them and wishes to make amends in some way.

We find out that Pastor Toller lost his son, Joseph, recently while serving in the Iraq War and feels guilt for having told him to enlist having come from a military background himself as a chaplain. During that difficult time, he committed adultery and started drinking but also found his faith again to then become a pastor at First Reformed after going through grieving his son’s loss. However, a chance encounter with one of his congregants and his wife puts his faith in God and humanity to the ultimate test.

Mary, a devout congregant and believer in God and her skeptical husband, Michael, a stern environmentalist and becoming increasingly radical meet with Pastor Toller separately in their house. Mary has concerns about Michael’s well-being and tells the Pastor they expect to have a child soon. Michael is sincerely struggling with the fact that he will be a father soon when the world’s ecosystems are steadily collapsing, sea levels are rising, and the effects of global climate change are to be felt beginning in the next few decades. For any of us watching this pivotal scene including Pastor Toller himself, there are no easy answers from God or from man either regarding the future of humanity. Ernest finds it difficult to comfort Michael but asks to keep seeing him and to look out for Mary and the unborn child.

This particular scene leads to the rest of the film’s deeper dive into the effects of capitalism and greed on the environment as well as the relationship between big industry and religious institutions. Pastor Toller’s awakening from meeting with Mary and Michael leads him to questioning why the environmental situation is so dire, who is responsible for it, what can be done to stop it, and how far should measures be taken. Because the Pastor has no easy answers for Michael, he starts looking for them and is obviously dismayed by what he finds out regarding the local environmental situation in his community and how greed, industry, and the lack of stewardship for his community have led humanity down towards an unsustainable path.

Without spoiling the film, The Pastor struggles with what he can do as one individual to counteract the forces aligned against good stewardship of the planet and what a person can do to draw attention to the problem. Not only is there a crisis of faith in God but in each other and what is being done to the only planet we have ever known. The Pastor, with certain health issues related to alcoholism, is reconciling with the fact that he is mortal and what kind of impact he wants to leave behind.

He is comforted by the fact that Mary is still a believer in the future and wants to have a child even with the future of the planet looking relatively bleak. Pastor Toller knows however that he has the responsibility now to hold those accountable for their actions whether it’s the Evangelical church, a big industrialist doing environmental damage, or even himself when he strays from helping those in his congregation who need it the most.

‘First Reformed’ poses a lot of weighty questions and it is an extremely timely film in terms of its messages and themes. It is bleak because it has to be and raises a lot of issues that we have neglected regarding the environment and now we may be finding that time to make a difference in this escalating problem is running out. ‘First Reformed’ asks us how an ordinary man of faith yet a pillar of the community so respond to those in his congregation who are in despair regarding environmental damage and destruction.

How far should he go and how radical should he be to get people to listen and understand what is being done? Can love and faith overcome the desire to do harm and take revenge against those who have sinned against the planet? Like any good film, there are no easy answers and the director does not condone or condemn the thoughts or possible actions that Pastor Toller weights leading up to the climax of the last scene.

What this film does an excellent job of is warning its viewers about the consequences of greed, ignorance, lack of stewardship, valuing profits over the health and well-being of people, and the unholy alliance of organized religion and big industries. There are numerous fingers to point at regarding the worsening state of climate change going on in the world currently but perhaps those who watch this excellent film will realize that the finger should be pointed at ourselves first about the damage being done. Perhaps that kind of introspective thinking is what it will take for massive external action to occur and for the worst of the consequences to be avoided.

‘The Revenant’ – Film Review and Analysis

What happens when you push a man to his utmost limit? What occurs when you take everything from him including his wife and child? At the point of both physical and mental exhaustion, what carries the man forward to keep on fighting and to keep on living? Few films really probe these questions related to the power of the human spirit as realistically as ‘The Revenant.’ An excellent and unique film that was propelled to success, both commercially and critically because of the acting brilliance of Leonardo DiCaprio and through the special direction of Alejandro González Iñárritu.

‘The Revenant’ is a 2015 film that is both a sprawling epic and an intimate biography, which covers a time in American history where the West was not yet settled, and both the elements and the native population could cause a settler or a trader to lose their lives all too quickly. The film is also a western in that it depicts the rough and tumble life of a frontiersman who was at the whim of not only nature but also hostile animals and native tribes who were lurking just behind the shadows of the mountains and the forestry that surrounded them.

Hugh Glass (portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio) is one such frontiersman who was a real-life person skilled at being a fur trapper, explorer, and a hunter. While his story was embellished for ‘The Revenant’, the legend itself while it may not have happened in all of its audacity still makes for a great movie adaptation. The legend surrounding Mr. Glass involves him being left for dead after he was abandoned by the fur trappers, he was assisting in their quest to participate in the burgeoning fur trade in the Far West of Montana, the Dakotas, and Nebraska.

After a vicious attack by a grizzly bear while out hunting for food and provisions for General William Ashley’s expedition, Hugh Glass was essentially left for dead by those men who had abandoned him even though he was still alive. Glass had killed the grizzly bear who had attacked him but was essentially rendered immobile by the attack and could not talk or walk on his own two feet for weeks. In the historical accounts, Hugh Glass was able to somehow heal himself enough to crawl, stumble, and walk over 200 miles (320 kilometers) to Fort Kiowa, South Dakota to survive.

In the meantime, he had survived attacks from the native tribes, living in conditions of winter weather and brutal cold, and avoiding potential hazards such as icy tundra, treacherous mountains, and other elements. The one thing about both the historical portrayal of Hugh Glass’s story and that of ‘The Revenant’ was how he thrived in those brutal environments given his history as an explorer and a fur trapper. If you are able to live at the edge of civilization and make a living for yourself in doing so, you should never be counted out when it comes to surviving when all hell breaks loose.

Compared to the historical legend, Hugh Glass, thanks to the brilliant acting of Leonardo DiCaprio is given a more substantive background that makes him a more relatable figure. In the two and a half hours of the film, Glass is portrayed also as a family man just trying to make his way in the world by making himself useful to both the fur trappers and the U.S. Army personnel who have come to take territory for themselves and make themselves rich in the unforgiving North American wilderness. In this cutthroat environment, there are no room for careless mistakes and the viewer will see in the film just how deadly each day can be. If there is any wisdom that Hugh wishes to impart on his family is that he wants to give them the tools for survival even if that means his own demise.

Glass is not a perfect protagonist and it is clear from the beginning of the film that he is out for himself and his family alone as he does not let anyone, or anything come between him and his son Hawk. His deceased wife was a Pawnee Indian and his son, Hawk, is half-Pawnee. After the death of his wife, Hugh Glass is extremely protective of his son, Hawk, because he knows that the men, he is traveling with do not see him as an equal because of his Pawnee background. Glass is committed to protecting his son because that is all he has left to live for.

While respectful towards the Pawnee, Glass and the other fur traders are fearful of the Arikara who are out to find their tribe chief’s abducted daughter, Powaqa, even though they didn’t take her. In order to survive, Glass has to defend himself and the other traders from the Arikara who are vicious in their hatred of anyone who has invaded their territory. After the fateful bear attack that severely wounds Glass, Hawk prevents the trappers from killing his father and they move on without him leaving John Fitzgerald and Hawk to carry him back to the Fort where he can get medical attention.

Unfortunately, Fitzgerald is a sociopath only concerned about his own survival and terrified of the Arikara attacking again. Fitzgerald kills Hawk as Glass watches in agony because Fitzgerald was selfish in his desire to survive and leave Hugh to die. Another man, Bridger, leaves Glass to die as well and they take his gun and all of his provisions leaving him defenseless against the brutal elements. While Bridger is complicit, it is Fitzgerald who draws the ire and contempt from Glass in his quest for vengeance.

Despite being left for dead, Hugh Glass is hellbent on getting vengeance for the death of his son, Hawk, and wanted to get revenge on John Fitzgerald for killing his son, taking his provisions, and leaving him to die in the wilderness. Through his knowledge as a fur trapper, his ability to track both people and animals, Hugh was able to survive the treacherous winter conditions, heal himself and his wounds, and able to eat buffalo and horse meat to survive. So much was Glass’s desire for vengeance that he was able to travel the 200 miles to get to the Fort to seek treatment for his wounds and gather up the strength to set himself on the trail of John Fitzgerald. In the case of Hugh Glass, an eye for an eye is warranted when his whole life (his wife and his son) have been taken from him.

While the real-life story of Hugh Glass is up for debate, ‘The Revenant’ draws the audience in through its stunning visuals, powerful acting by actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy and the visionary directing by Iñárritu whose tracking shots from the opening battle to the bear attack scene to the final fight scene between Fitzgerald and Glass will leave the viewer breathless. This is a pure survivalist movie of man against man and nature but it also revolves around an emotional core of someone who is trying to do his best to sustain himself and his son in harsh living conditions. The movie’s setting is strongly intertwined with a perilous time in American history where Native Americans, fur trappers, French explorers, and even the U.S. army were fighting to the death for control of lucrative trades and future security in the untamed yet wild territory of the Northwest region.

DiCaprio and Iñárritu made ‘The Revenant’ in mind for its unabashed portrayal of both the beauty and the brutality of the natural environment. It is a movie that highlights how precious and fragile our climate is and how men can negatively affect it through their desire for greed and power. ‘The Revenant’ is as much as a morality tale as it is a tale of the utility of revenge. Two men, one whose world has been ripped apart due to the loss of his wife and son, and another man who fears losing his money, his fur pelts, and his life to Arikara attack are brought together in a struggle of good against evil. The film poses the question of is vengeance worth it? and how can justice be served in a world that is based on survival and not codes of morality or law? Arguably, one of the best films of 2015, ‘The Revenant’ was one of the best films of this decade and deserves a viewing.

Led by an Academy award winning director (Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu) and starring an Academy award winning actor (Leonardo DiCaprio), ‘The Revenant’ is a jaw-dropping and powerful film that will stay with you after the credits roll. The film’s themes are extremely relevant in terms of its varied focus on family, revenge, survival, and how to seek justice in a lawless environment. More than anything, it shows the fragility of civilization and how important it is to be able to put yourself in difficult and challenging situations to show what you are made of. Hugh Glass was not a perfect man but he knew what it took to survive against all odds and seek justice against those who had wronged him and his family even if it meant certain death.

Five Steps to Surviving City Life

Having spent the past eight years of my life living in different cities both here in the United States and overseas, you get accustomed to life in an urban environment and how to make the best of it. If you’re coming from a rural town or a suburb, adapting to a city can take months or even years when you’re not used to the frenetic scenes, fast-paced traffic, and always on the go mentality. A fact of this day and age is that the urban population around the world keeps increasing and a good amount of industries, jobs including in the high tech world are based out of cities.

According to the United Nations, over half of the world’s population, currently live in an urban environment. The exact percentage at this time is about 54% of the planet’s inhabitants. That percentage is expected to steadily increase to 66% of the world’s population by the year 2050. It is also estimated that over 2.5 billion more people will be living in the cities by mid-century and these people will be mostly concentrated in the continents of Asia and Africa. The 21st century may be remembered as the first truly urban century across the entire planet.

I bring these statistics and predictions up to you, dear reader, not to scare you but to enlighten you about what city life is like. The chances are good that if you’re reading this article that during your lifetime you’ll have to either live in a city or travel there occasionally for work or tourism purposes. By following the five steps outlined in my article, you’ll be able to adapt quicker to urban life and have an easier time adjusting to a city overall. As someone who has consistently lived in cities big and small since I was 18, I am speaking from almost a decade of experience now. Living in a city can be quite difficult at first but it can also be very rewarding both personally and professionally. I hope that these steps will help you to make better choices, live healthier, and stay out of trouble with the locals.

Here are my five steps to surviving city life:

  • Adapt to the local norms and customs.

Whether it’s waiting for someone to get off the train before you get on or standing to the right to let people pass you on the left as they go down the escalator, observing local norms and customs in cities is very important. From the experience I have of living in cities, it’s better to blend in than to stand out. When it comes to the dress code, metro etiquette, or how to tip at the restaurant, it’s best to “do what the Romans do.”

It may take some time to adjust and if you’re new in the city, people will understand that you’re not aware as to how things work exactly. In order to save yourself a lot of trouble and angst, it’s best not to fight against the way things are even if you disagree with them. Cities are essentially a living culture that is adaptable to change only when a significant part of the population there wants things to become different. The best way to get used to living in a new city is to be observant, asks the locals if you have any questions, and do your best to understand the local transportation system which leads me to my next step.

  • Use public transportation.

Depending on which city you’re living in, there’s likely to be a public transportation system made up of buses, trains, and local taxis. In addition, there’s also the new popularity of Uber, Lyft, and other ride-sharing services. In the modern city, there are plenty of ways to get around for cheaper than it costs to rent or own a car. The utility of walking or riding your bike in the city is also a great option and more environmentally friendly.

There are a few exceptions in terms of cities where it’s more sprawling and you would need to have a car but the majority of cities around the world encourage public transportation and its best not to have a car. If you need to get out of a car, there are rental car agencies galore as well as car sharing services that the urban dweller can use to get away from the hustle and bustle. In my opinion, owning a car in a city is expensive and a money sink. Between the cost of parking, the parking rules, and the higher cost of gasoline, it’s simply not worth it.

When you move to a new city, it’s important to take the time to learn the public transportation system especially for buses and trains. If you can afford to pay more, living in the center of the city will be more advantageous to getting around with public transportation. If you live on the outskirts of a city or outside of the city, then it’s more likely that you’ll need to have a car.

  • Do your best to meet new people.

Moving to a new city can be quite stressful and even lonely at times. If you’re new in the city and do not know anyone, that can be a real challenge. Luckily, I would say with the advent of the Internet, there are numerous groups out there especially for younger people in their 20s and 30s to meet like-minded people with similar interests and hobbies. One of the most popular websites for meeting new people is ‘Meetup.com.’

There are hundreds of groups in these cities that cater to professionals, artists, writers, entrepreneurs, sports fans, music fans, etc. Depending on how big the city you’re living in, the chances are good that you’ll find a group or two where you will have something in common with the people in the Meetup group. These groups are free to join usually and it’s a great way to make connections. I’m also quite partial to Couchsurfing, a website designed to help travelers around the world to get to know each other better and exchange stories about life on the road.

Usually, there are Facebook groups and local websites especially in the United States that focus on being social through sports. Whether its soccer (football), volleyball, kickball, etc., joining a social sports club is a good way to meet new people. The best way to meet people in a city though is just by opening your mouth and starting a conversation with someone who is a local. “I’m new here, what are the fun things to do in __________?” (name of city) That question alone should get the ball rolling.

  • Use common sense (Crime, Pollution, Weather).

Using common sense when it comes to living in a city is extremely important. Part of it comes down to doing your research about the neighborhood you’ll be living in, figuring out if there are any crime and/or safety issues to be aware of. Some cities also have an issue with air pollution and/or water pollution so it’s good to ask around about if it is safe to drink the water or if you need a mask to cover your face to breathe during certain times of the day. Being able to know what kind of climate a city has throughout the year is also key. There is a lot of information out there about the weather / climate zones that a city is located in.

For example, I knew that in Medellin, Colombia, there is a rainy and a dry season that changes depending upon the time of year. Otherwise, there would be no winter, snow, and the city would have a spring-time like climate otherwise. When I moved to Boston, I changed my mind set to reflect the new urban environment I would be living in. Instead of springtime weather year around, I would have to adjust to living in seasonal conditions again with colder winters and more humid summers.

Out of all the things that people overlook when moving to a new city in their country or outside of their country; it is adapting to the weather and climate conditions. Doing your research about crime, pollution, and the weather along with asking the locals is key to mastering this particular step. Also, it is key to know a little bit of information about each of the neighborhoods in your city and whether they are pretty safe or not. If you have children, knowing about the city schools should be high on your priority list.

  • Get out of the city occasionally.

I know from my own personal experiences that city life can be really rewarding but also quite stressful. You’re interacting with hundreds of strangers each day who you don’t know that well and are often going through life at a frantic pace. It can be overwhelming to our senses especially when it comes to all of the light, noise, traffic, and the amount of people nearby. Cities can also feel claustrophobic at times. That is why my last step focuses on getting out of your comfort zone to leave the city every now and then. Mixing it up to be in a more rural area with mountains or in a small town by the sea can really do you a world of good. In all honesty, cities are not the most natural environment for human beings to be in all of the time.

Collectively, we really need to be in nature whether its’ in the woods, in the mountains, or by the sea. Going for a hike, doing some fishing at the lake, or relaxing with a book at the beach are really good ways to help our mental health especially if you spend 90% of your time in a city. On top of that, being able to get some exercise and being outdoors will do you a world of good both mentally and physically. Even if it costs you some money and a rental car, leaving the city can be very beneficial to surviving city life. If you’re reading this article and haven’t been to either the mountains, the lakes, the rivers, or the beaches in a while, consider doing so if possible.

I’m quite confident that if you follow each of these five steps, you’ll be able to survive life in the city. Even if you’re only able to one or two of them, you’re setting yourself on the right path to developing a healthier mindset when it comes to urban living. I hope this article helps you and feel free to leave me a comment below if you have any further questions. I’d be happy to answer to the best of my ability.

El Salado

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Camera: Lenovo A2010

Location: Envigado, Antioquia, Colombia (Parque Ecological)

 

Valle del Cocora

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CameraCanon PowerShot SX710 HS

Location: Valle del Cocora; Salento, Quindio, Colombia

Guatepe and La Piedra

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CameraCanon PowerShot SX710 HS

Location: Guatepe, Antioquia, Colombia