Collaborative Survival in Paul Schrader’s First Reformed

Abstract: This article examines Paul Schrader’s film First Reformed (2017) from an ecocritical perspective, building on Lawrence Buell’s understanding of the climate crisis as a crisis of imagination, and the subsequent need and search for new, non-individualistic perspectives that could aid in the resolution of said crisis. I predominately employ two critical frameworks: affect theory and the concepts from Donna Haraway’s essay “Symbiogenesis, Sympoiesis, and Art Science Activisms for Staying with the Trouble.” Drawing on the notions of climate-induced anxiety and depression as well as Ann Cvetkovich’s term ‘public feeling,’ I analyze the workings of affect in the film. I argue that both Haraway’s essay and Schrader’s film propose similar strategies for survival in the face of climate change. The article also includes a brief rejection of eco-theological perspectives that, at first glance, may seem relevant to the film. Instead, I propose a reading of First Reformed as a text that upholds collaboration with others as the most crucial strategy for survival in the face of climate change.

The Anthropocene is an unprecedented time, and the struggles and challenges it presents often question the beliefs that lie at the very basis of human societies. Consequently, we are in constant need of imagining new ways for conceptualizing our contemporary reality and the solutions to its pressing problems. The need to inform and engage the general public in attending to environmental issues is crucial for the survival of life on Earth as we know it. Affects play an immense role in this task, according to Kyle Bladow and Jennifer Ladino, they “are at the center of contemporary biopolitics and are more public, more powerful, and more pertinent than ever” (“Toward” 1). In response to the Anthropocene, new and unique ‘bad’ affects emerge, including “despair, resignation, climate grief, and solastalgia, as well as familiar feelings like disappointment and anxiety” (11). These affects tend to work against the common goal of survival. Nevertheless, numerous scholars and artists are constantly proposing new ways of thinking which birth strategies and ideas that help battle despair and give hope for living on a damaged planet, while also harnessing these ‘bad’ affects toward survival efforts.

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