MovieChat Forums > First Reformed (2017) Discussion > Toller was not the shallow man who would...

Toller was not the shallow man who would find meaning in... (spoilers alert)


A user in one of the threads here was saying that they didn't find it so hard to believe that a good man like Ernst Toller, after going through all the problems which the film has him go through, would find meaning in extremism.

But the complaints over the ending scenes are not really about him being (for the most part) "a good man". At least mine isn't. My issue with the jarring shift in this film's final portion is that Toller was a thinking man. His words throughout the movie, written or spoken, to himself or to others, were deep and thoughtful. He wasn't the kind of man that would be so shallow as to search for "meaning" in thoughtless acts. He would have given this act a lot of thought.

Yes, his crisis grew and grew as the film progressed but if this otherwise compelling portrait of Toller wished to remain realistic and relevant to the end, it needed a more nuanced account of his descent and deteriorating state by including some of the intelligent introspection which he showed he was capable of. I'm not saying it would have necessarily helped him - intelligence can sometimes only complicate things - but it would have been a realistic narrative and it would never have led to a suicide bombing. It would have still led him to a troubling place in all likelihood, but not to the bombing of innocents (which was, in the end, only aborted out of emotion for a girl).

Extremism is even directly discussed in the movie as Reverend Joel Jeffers says that kids nowadays want certainty ("Don't think. Follow.") and that is how they "fall prey to extremism." How can the film then have Toller fall prey to precisely that when it did everything in the first half to show that he was anything but a sheep requiring a black-and-white worldview, but that he was capable of holding a very nuanced view on things, even talking about the necessary coexistence of hope and despair? His hope may have dwindled and his despair grown after subsequent events, but can you really be led to extremism by despair alone? Reverend Jeffers said it: one has to be a bit simple-minded and vacuous, basically. The film went to great lengths to draw a character that wasn't, then seemingly forgot character development and instead went for shock value. It didn't work.

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Great post and I agree. That was my problem with it..
It just didn't naturally follow the character to a realistic conclusion...it made the character fit their narrative.

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