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Paul Schrader Explains the Ending of ‘First Reformed’ to Sofia Coppola: ‘Wanna Know What Heaven Looks Like?’

The ambiguous finale has left viewers scratching their heads.

“First Reformed”

Photo Courtesy of Arclight Films

[Editor’s Note: The following article contains spoilers for “First Reformed.]

Paul Schrader has made his best film in years (decades?) with “First Reformed,” which stars Ethan Hawke as a troubled reverend in Upstate New York. For all the praise it’s received, the film has also raised questions due to a wonderfully ambiguous final scene that finds Hawke passionately kissing Amanda Seyfried after nearly committing suicide-by-Drano.

It’s unclear whether what we’re seeing is real, a dream, or a dying man’s last vision; during an appearance on the A24 podcast, Schrader admitted to Sofia Coppola that he isn’t sure, either — but he has some ideas.

“I don’t know what the ending is,” Schrader says approximately 30 minutes into their conversation. “It can be read in either one of two ways. One, that a miracle has occurred and his life is spared. The other is equally, in my sense, optimistic, which is that he drinks the Drano and he’s on all fours. He’s throwing up his stomach and God comes over to him, who has not talked to him for the whole movie, and says, “Reverend Toller, you wanna know what Heaven looks like? Here it it is. This is exactly what it looks like: It looks like one long kiss. And that’s the last thing he sees.”

Schrader then goes on to explain that, in the editing room, he tried to make it look “half and half” in terms of which of the two possibilities is “correct.” Listen to the full conversation — which also touches on “Taxi Driver,” substance abuse, and both filmmakers’ writing processes — here.

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