in conversation

In Conversation: Paul Schrader

The writer-director on First Reformed, his Oscar hopes, and the end of the world.

Paul Schrader. Photo: Jeff Brown
Paul Schrader. Photo: Jeff Brown

Paul Schrader comes into the Russian Tea Room, the classic 1970s power room, wearing mostly black, which seems appropriate. He asks if we’ve met before and I tell him yes, “in 1972.” That was when I saw him deliver a lecture about his book, Transcendental Style in Film, about the work of cinema’s most austere directors, Robert Bresson, Carl Dreyer, and Yasujirō Ozu. Schrader was 26 years old then, just recently out of Calvin College where, like everyone else, he minored in theology. Four years later, in 1976, he was among the best-known screenplay writers in the county, author of Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. In 1978 he made his directing debut with the minor classic Blue Collar, which featured Harvey Keitel, Yaphet Kotto, and a grand turn by the late Richard Pryor. Schrader soon followed with screenplays for Raging Bull and American Gigolo, which he also directed. He was pretty much on top of the world. But then came what he called his “wilderness” years.

Never discouraged, always resourceful, Schrader has managed to direct 23 films in all, many of them barely peeking above the radar. But now, with First Reformed, a stark drama that audaciously updates Bresson’s 1951 Diary of a Country Priest, Schrader is back. First Reformed received near-universal positive reviews, winning a number of awards and placing number three on New York Magazine critic David Edelstein’s “Best of the Year” list. A24, the company that distributed First Reformed, has launched a campaign to put Schrader into the mix for best screenplay Oscar — which, incredibly, would be his first-ever nomination. Our conversation took place mainly in a large empty room dominated with a 12-foot-tall plastic Russian bear resembling an ice sculpture.

Your backstory is one of the best backstories in the history of cinema. You didn’t see a movie ‘til you were 17. Is this actually true?
Well, I mean, nobody else saw a movie, so I wasn’t aware that I was missing anything.

You were aware there was such a thing as movies, right?
Yeah. But I mean, if nobody you know sees a movie, nobody you know talks about it. And you don’t have the media like we do today. The movies didn’t hit ‘til I got in college, and bam! I was at Calvin, and there was a little soft-core theater nearby, a Russ Meyer kind of theater. They weren’t making any money, so the owner had this brilliant idea to program a month of Ingmar Bergman. That was just like three blocks away from college. Everybody from Calvin started going to see these Bergman films, Winter Light, Through a Glass Darkly. We really realized that in cinema, people were doing and talking about the same things we were doing in college. So that was an explosion. Your head just popped. Then, very quickly, I started programming films at the college.

How’d you program movies if you never saw any?
I had been reading about cinema, then I went to Columbia film school for a summer — it was called the Center for Mass Communications at that time — primarily to see movies that people knew. St. Mark’s Place, the Thalia, Bleecker. And that’s how I met Pauline [Kael]. That’s how the whole thing started. I wouldn’t be sitting at this table if it weren’t for Pauline. She said to me that summer, “You don’t wanna be a minister, you wanna be a film critic. We’re gonna stay in touch. You’re gonna send me everything you write.” And then later, she said, “If you wanna go to UCLA film school, I’ll get you in.” ‘Cause she was good friends with Colin Young. And UCLA was just as hard then as it is now. I had no right to get in there. I remember being a kid in Grand Rapids, lying in bed one night in my last year of college, asking God to keep Pauline alive another six months. Because that’s the only way I’m gonna get out of here. She just called up Colin and said, “You have to take him.” That’s how I got into film school.

[When I got to UCLA,] I was living in a house with four film students. I thought they were so déclassé. ‘Cause they were making a biker film for Corman. It was called Naked Angels.

They were too déclassé, why? Because they weren’t remaking Life of Oharu or something like that?
Because it was all so vulgar. It was all so tasteless. I had [an attitude] basically like Pauline, “We’ll tell you when you make a good film. That’s not your decision, that’s our decision.” My feeling about critics was that they were the arbitrators. And so, it was, in fact, kind of a superior position than being a filmmaker. There was a lot of this in literary criticism at the same time.

How do you feel about Kael’s review of Hardcore? I just noticed it today, and I thought, Wooo, this is kind of personal.
I didn’t pay it much mind. I had broken with her at that time. What happened was, I came up here for Christmas. I was the film critic at the L.A. Free Press at the time, and she was a kind of gatekeeper for film criticism in this country. So I was at her house, and she said, “There’s a couple openings. There’s an opening in Chicago, but with Roger [Ebert] there, I don’t think you should be there. But there’s also an opening in Seattle, and I think that’s perfect for you. It’s a great movie town, a very serious movie town, you’ll have freedom. I’d like you to take that job.” And I said, “Well, tomorrow is Christmas Eve. Can I have a week to think about it?” She said, “No. I want an answer right now.” I sat there, and I had been thinking about maybe trying my hand at writing a script. I knew if I went to Seattle, that would be that. So I said to her, “If you need an answer right now, the answer’s gonna be no.” She said, “Okay.” About five minutes later I got up and walked out. I got on the airplane and said, “Well, there goes your career. You just fucked it.”

It’s kind of amazing in the context of today that somebody like her would exist.
Well, because she had … at that time, boys, they were all boys … Gary Arnold was one, and then the next generation included people like Meredith Brody, and more women started coming in. But you would get a phone call. And she’d say, “La Chinoise. We’ve gotta get behind La Chinoise.” So she would try to line up movies so that when her review hit, four or five others around the country, actually in the same basic position, [would chime in]. They didn’t have to do it every time, but it was a sort of way for her to expand her influence.

But I had a moment in March of 1969 where everything pivoted. I went to the Laemmle Theater for a critics’ screening of Pickpocket. It’s only 75 minutes long. And I saw this film, and two things happened in the 75 minutes. One was I realized that there was a bridge between my sacred background, and my profane present in the movies. But it was a bridge of style, not a bridge of content. And the other thing I realized was that there might be a place for me in the movies. I just didn’t think all that popular entertainment was for me; I can’t entertain people that way. But I look at this film and I say, “Okay, he writes in his journal. And he goes out and he steals something, he writes some more, visits his neighbor. Writes some more, the cops come and visit him.” I said, “I could write a movie like that. I can do that.” And three years later I wrote Taxi Driver, which is that movie. So in that 75 minutes, two seeds fell into a petri dish, and they grew into different vines. And it took 50 years for the vines to meet, which they did in this film, First Reformed.

I think I actually enjoyed First Reformed more than any of your other films, except maybe Blue Collar. I mean just as a moviegoing experience. It’s one of the best remakes I ever saw.
What’s it a remake of?

Well … I’ve seen Diary of a Country Priest a few times, you know?
Yeah, but it’s the main character from Country Priest, it’s the setting from Winter Light, it’s the ending from Ordet, it’s the levitation from The Sacrifice, and it’s all wrapped together with the barbed wire of Taxi Driver.

I wish you never told me that. One of the things I really like about the movie is that it’s really sufficiently updated to now.
But, it’s a mistake when you think that any of us do anything new. All we do is reassemble our montages. If you reassemble in an interesting enough way, it will become something new. What I added — which I didn’t quite realize while I was making the film, I realized in the editing — was the monomaniacal obsession of Taxi Driver. The other films don’t have that. The editor said to me in the editing room, “You know, there’s a lot of Taxi Driver in this film.” And I said, “Yeah, I know, I put it in there.” He said, “No, no. There’s not a little, there’s a lot.” And I started to realize that it had gotten infused with that same thought pattern I used 45 years before. Because I thought I was making a slow movie. And I first screened it for people and I said, “I warned you, this is a slow movie. It’s going to take its time, don’t rush it.” Then afterward someone said, “That’s not a slow movie.”

What is your favorite directed film — that you feel that you did the best on?
I have different favorites. My whole-life favorite of course is First Reformed. But, Mishima is the damnedest thing. The very fact that I made it, that it can exist, and that it’s still unique all these years later. Affliction, I think, is almost a perfect adaptation of a book. I really nailed that book. Stylistically, I love The Comfort of Strangers. And Light Sleeper’s full of yearning, yearning, yearning.

Things really changed for you when you sold the screenplay of The Yakuza for $300,000.
I remember I was having dinner with Pauline and Roger at the Algonquin. Roger volunteered to pick up the check, and Pauline said, “Don’t you touch that check. Don’t you realize he just sold a screenplay?”

That was really the beginning of something, wasn’t it? A gold-rush situation.
It started about ’67. And it was particularly the collapse of Hello Dolly! and Paint Your Wagon that really spooked Hollywood. ‘Cause they were way over budget. And it’s hard to convey now how much insecurity and anger there was about the counterculture. Hollywood was angry, Sinatra was angry, they’re all angry. They thought, “It’s not our world anymore. And we have no idea how to sell what we sell to these kids.” Dominick Dunne has a picture book called The Way We Lived Then, and he describes a party he gave in Beverly Hills with all the old guard, in black tie. And Warren Beatty and Julie Christie walked in, in hippie garb. And he said that you could just see the Red Sea splitting. The venom steaming out of the room, you know? And the arrogance of Beatty and Christie. Rubbing it in their faces: “You are out. We are in.” So the studios were trying to figure out, “How do we sell to the youth market?” And so there was a window there where you could pitch. I remember Francis [Coppola] told me, “You just go in there, and you say to them, ‘Today is your lucky day, because all I care about is making money. And I know how to make money. And I’m gonna make some money for you.’” And he said, “They’re so insecure, they’ll believe you.”

So, I remember when that door opened. And I also remember exactly the moment it closed, which was in 1978. I was at Paramount prepping American Gigolo, and Barry Diller had come over, from ABC, to run Paramount. His head of market research was way on the other side of the lot. Barry took this guy from ABC, and put his office right in front of us. We had to go through this guy’s office to get to Barry. It was a signal to everybody, “We don’t need you to tell us what to make anymore. We figured it out. We’ll tell you now.”

So how long did it last? A couple years?
The opening? About ten years, really. It opened about ’68 and closed about ’78. But then when I really felt it was in ‘85, ‘cause I went off to Japan to make Mishima.

Did you go to Mishima because Cat People was a flop?
No, no, no. I went to Mishima to save my life. When I came back, I made a film called Light Sleeper. I had to show it to Mike Medavoy because of the way it was contractually set up. And he saw it, and he called me up, and said, “Paul, that’s a really terrific film. I really like it. But you know we don’t make that film anymore.” That simple. Boom.

So, what happened to the film? I mean, it came out.
It’s an independent film now. It’s not a studio film.

When you’re trying to make this kind of popular art, and you feel the audience is no longer with you, what goes through the mind of the maker at that point?
When audiences are hungry for thought-out reactions to what’s going on around them, great films are gonna occur. That’s all it takes. When audiences don’t want movies to be thought-out reflections of the world, but they want them to be the opposite, then it gets much, much harder.

So what do you do about that? I mean is there something to do about it, or is it just sorta like, you just work in your little zone and that’s it?
Yeah. You’re in your little spot, and you give a $1,000 to one viewer. And they’re in their spot, and they give $1 to 1,000 viewers, you hope somehow it’ll balance out.

But it’s not the same … This is not truth 24 frames a second. This is not that Zeitgeist kind of thing that people once imagined that the cinema would be.
Well, it’s also part of the larger question of the de-fraction of culture. The fact that there’s no center. There’s no Johnny Carson, there’s no Walter Cronkite, there’s no Bruce Springsteen. There’s no fucking center to popular culture. The atrium where everyone would get together to talk is now dozens of little rooms. So back in the ’60s and ’70s, if you wanted to talk about the culture, and what was happening around us, you were going to have to talk about Bonnie and Clyde. Or The Wild Bunch. That was part of the conversation. And so, if you look back through that period, almost every week something came out that would give a critic a bone to chew on. If it had substance in it, you know. It’s taken 50 years for those opposed to the counterculture to finally win. To make sure that 1969 could never happen again.

And of course, we could talk for days about the cowboy atmosphere we’re in now. Nothing we’ve learned in the last 100 years is of much value.

What do you mean by that?
About filmmaking. We don’t know what a movie is anymore. We don’t know how long it is, we don’t know where you see it, we don’t know how you monetize it. What if it’s a net series? That is half hours, or 15 minutes. What if it’s 115 minutes, you know? That’s still a movie, isn’t it? Yes it is. Mad Men is a movie. It’s a 79-hour movie.

Is it true that Amazon and Netflix didn’t want to make First Reformed?
Well, we sent them the script. And they passed on the script, and then, of course, when we showed the film in Toronto, they could’ve picked it up then, too, and they didn’t.

Why do you think that might’ve been?
I don’t … I suspect that Amazon and Netflix are not so much outside the box as they would like you to believe. Netflix, for example, operates under the theory of, if you liked this, you will like this. And of course, when you have a film that’s unique, that runs against the thinking of that model. I have a feeling that it just seemed too unlike what they do.

They put on a wide variety of stuff.
Yeah, I know. I mean, God knows they do, and I’m very thankful that they didn’t [buy First Reformed] because I ended up with A24 who knew exactly how to handle such a film. It would have gotten lost in that vast cornucopia of streaming. If you decided to watch only Netflix, all the time, 24/7 you still wouldn’t see all of it.

What’s the larger implication when these guys are functioning as the absolute studio system at the moment?
A lot of it just depends on, you know, if there had been someone over there, like there was David Fenkel at A24, who said, “I know how to sell this movie.” If there had been a person at Netflix or Amazon who said that, they would have bought it.

Well, do they have the mechanism to sell that specific film or do they just sell the whole package? I mean, do they actually focus on a particular film?
Well, Amazon does theatrical releases. And now Netflix gave Roma a four-week window.

Yeah, I wanted to ask about Roma. Here you’ve got a movie that’s a strong contender for the best film of the year. Then all of a sudden everyone can see it for free on Netflix. So, how does that change the parameters of the situation?
It changes and it doesn’t. I don’t know if it’s necessarily better or worse. The goal of a storyteller or a filmmaker is not to challenge technology, but to exploit it. And, so, if you’re a storyteller you look at this medium, you look at what it’s good at, you say, “If I did such and such for Netflix, that would just be the perfect fit. It would be the best thing for that story.” I wouldn’t have that opinion having just finished the script for First Reformed: “You know, the perfect fit for this script is Netflix.”

Do you think this has something to do with the fall of the art-house cinema? They’re still around in some form, but not really as a so-called genre you can fit into.
Well, you know, theatrical is down to a number of possibilities. You have children’s cinema, which works very well in theatrical. Spectacle cinema. You have teen cinema like horror movies. And then you have club cinema, which is what we used to call art-house cinema.

Club cinema? Is that the word for it?
That’s what I call it. That’s like, Alamo Drafthouse, Jacob Burns Film Center, Metrograph, Film Forum; these places that are remodeling themselves as social units. And at Metrograph, there are more square feet devoted to the bars and restaurants than there are to the projection areas. And so this is becoming a new model for art cinema and it’s working quite well.

Do you like it?
Yeah, I actually do like it. When the Lincoln Center Theater reopens … you know, it used to be on the old model, which is like a strip-mall model. I’m sure when it reopens it’ll reopen as the club model. That’s a way in which the theatrical experience is being continued for art cinema. And also because you make a lot more money off booze than you do off popcorn.

I want to know how a screenplay writer deals with the current framework of stuff where most people think that movies are in the past. This is an existential problem. You’ve made 24 films. How did you manage to do it?
Independent filmmakers are like scavengers in the banquet, you know, coming by and grabbing the food that falls of the table, until they finally get full. You build these movies up. I mean, the most amazing one to have ever been built up was Mishima. How did I build that? Even today people ask, “How in God’s name did you get that financed?”

I’m an outlier. I’ve been an outlier all my life, I’m still an outlier. For one reason or another, many of my films, and certainly not all, have a shelf life. And continue to have a kind of a resonance. So even a film like Cat People, whose technology is completely out of date — there’s no digital technology in there, everything is floor effects, nothing like that movie would be made today — there’s still something in that movie that makes people want to see it. And it has, obviously, to do with the romantic obsession. Being an outlier has worked for me, and it’s one of the reasons I have a bookcase full of lifetime-achievement awards, and very few actual awards. I’ve never been nominated for an Oscar.

You’ve never been nominated for an Oscar. That’s kind of strange.
You know, you can’t really dwell on that. I remember saying to Marty [Scorsese] at one point — ‘cause he was all obsessed with that — I said, “If your priority is to get an Oscar, you need a new priority.”

So do you find it disappointing that your career didn’t blow up? Or do you feel happy with that?
No, no, I was very fortunate. I was very, very fortunate that I had validation, almost from the start. What I got out of Taxi Driver is what people work a whole career to get. You’re involved in a movie that doesn’t die. That hits the bull’s-eye of the cultural Zeitgeist. How do you ever plan for that to happen, and how does it happen to you when you’re 27 years old?

What’s the downside of that, anything?
People think there’s a downside because they think that you’ll be living in the shadow. But in fact, it’s absolutely freeing. I didn’t need to have my worth as a film worker validated. And I know people who spent their entire lives desperate for that validation. The only pressure now is to do good work. Maybe it’ll circle around, and maybe it won’t. But no matter how few chips you have left, you’ve got to stay at the table. That’s the thing. You can’t let them make you leave the table.

I made Dog Eat Dog to redeem myself from the humiliation of Dying of the Light, which was taken away from me. Nic [Cage] and I disowned it, I subsequently did my own edit, put it on torrent, but it was a career killer. I thought I was gonna die. It was a personal film, a film I had written. I had set it up, and it was taken away by these assholes who didn’t love films anymore. A new group of people had come into the business. In the past I had never needed final cut. Because you were dealing with people who liked movies. You had disagreements, you worked it out. Now you’re dealing with people who not only don’t like movies much, they don’t even go to them. They just have formulas. They fired me as soon as they could. Brought in their own editor, and put out this exploitation version of a film I wanted to make. So I said, “This is gonna be the end. My career will end in embarrassment and humiliation.”

Then I went back to Nic, and I said, “We’ve got to get this stain off our clothes.” And what I’m really referring to is my clothes, ‘cause he’ll never get the stains off his clothes. And I said, “We gotta work together.” So they sent me this script, Dog Eat Dog, and I said, “I can get you Nic Cage. But I have to have final cut, because the way we were fucked last time. I won’t call him unless I have final cut.” And they say, “Okay, if you can get him you can have final cut.” So now we had final cut. We could do anything we wanted. And so that was the whole thinking behind that film: Whatever you wanna do, let’s do it.

And at the end of Dog Eat Dog, the whole final scene, Nic does a Humphrey Bogart imitation. It’s right at the end of the film, it’s uncertain whether he’s even alive or dead at this point. It’s the last day of shooting, and when we were rehearsing, I hear this Humphrey Bogart imitation. His character had talked about Bogart earlier, but I always said I could cut that out. Now, all of a sudden, he is Bogart for four minutes. I said, “Nic, we don’t have the time to shoot this both ways. If we shoot it this way, this is the way it’s gonna be.” And he said, “Look, you’ve been telling me all along to be bold, to take chances. This character always wanted to be Humphrey Bogart. If he’s dead, he can be Humphrey Bogart. Let’s let him be Humphrey Bogart.” I said, “Okay.” And that’s the way we did it, and thank God we had final cut because they tried to take it out, they tried to redo it, make it normal. I said, “No, no.”

When you’re a movie director, you’re like god, right? At least when we were growing up, that was a big deal.
But that’s changed a little bit now, as the budgets come down. You’re working in about half the time you were working in the past. Directors don’t really hang out in trailers anymore. ‘Cause by the time you get to your trailer, they’re tapping you on the shoulder saying, “We’re ready.” I shot First Reformed in 20 days. When I began [my career], that was a 45-day shoot. I got more raw footage in 20 days than I would’ve gotten in 45. You just shoot, shoot, shoot. The lighting is so fast, you don’t have gels anymore. Boom, boom, boom, they’re lighting from their iPads.

Is it shot in HD?

So the digital world has been good to you so far?
Oh I love it. Actors love it too, because they never get off the stage. Trailer time can be a killer. You do a scene, then go to the trailer for two hours, and then do it again from the other side. Now you do it once, boom, do it again.

How is the larger digital world treating you? Is this good for the human condition or not?
It’s not good for the human condition, it’s not good for the sociopolitical condition. This democratization of misinformation … this notion that everybody’s opinion is as valuable as the next. And that, if you don’t believe something, you’re right not to believe it. If you don’t believe in gravity, go for it.

So, how big a crisis is that?
I’ll put it the other way. If you’re optimistic, you haven’t been paying attention. You know who Yuval Noah Harari is? He wrote the book Sapiens. He just did a lecture, and he talked about the three horsemen of the apocalypse: environmental collapse, AI, and nuclear holocaust. Which horseman comes in first? We don’t know. But we know one of them is gonna come in. And the odds of our species outliving the century are not very strong.

Don’t you think the end of First Reformed is completely optimistic?

Seemed that way to me. They go off, they levitate, they see the universe, the universe is falling apart, even as they’re kissing each other. And then they decide to be in love anyhow.
Yeah, you’re just assuming that he’s alive.

What do you mean by that?
Isn’t it very odd that all of a sudden she’s there? And the room is bright? There’s no music? The room is bright, she suddenly appears, the camera starts swimming around. Could this not be an ecstatic experience?

Now that you mention it, yeah. But that’s not the way it came to me.
I’ve planned it both ways. When we tested it, I would ask people, “Is he alive, or is he dead?” ‘Cause I wanted to keep it at 50/50. So we slightly changed the edit. I took out the action where she steps into the room. When you see her step in the room, it makes you think that she actually is there. But when she’s just there, she may be a vision. Here’s my favorite explanation for the ending. So you have this man in the garden with the cup. No one is going to take that cup away from him. So he drinks it. And then he falls on all fours, and starts disgorging his stomach. And then God walks in the room. God, who had never talked to him over the course of the film. And God says, “Reverend Toller, would you like to see what Heaven looks like? I’m going to show you right now. Heaven looks like one long kiss.” And that’s the last thing he sees.

Some years after Taxi Driver was released, interpretations starting popping up that the ending was all a dream. That wasn’t what we intended when we shot it. But, I thought, well, that’s fair enough. I don’t have a problem with that. If you want to interpret it that way, you can. So when I came to the ending of this one, I said, “Let’s build it right in. Let’s build it in there so you can interpret it either way.” Therefore I don’t know which one it is. I don’t have to say, and I don’t even have to know. Because I’ve built it in both ways.

Is it either eternal love or the suicide vest? I mean, is that the question?
Well, I mean, it is an open ending. And, however you choose to see it is probably the right choice. You know, somebody like Nic Cage is absolutely convinced that it’s realistic. Somebody else is saying that it’s a vision. And they’re both right.

But are these extremes the only choices?
Well, when you’ve gone so far down the path that he’s going, of self-martyrdom and of pride, it’s kind of hard to come back. I’m gonna look up something. I was just reading an article where someone had a great quote. So, this is an article in a Christian magazine called Crosswalk. It talks about Merton — it quotes the quote I quote from Merton [in First Reformed] but then it also gives another quote: “To despair is the absolute extreme of self-love. It is reached when a man deliberately turns his back on all help from anyone else in order to taste the rotten luxury of knowing himself to be lost.”

One of the things that younger people know about you is that you have a very cranky Facebook page.
Yeah, well, I got on Facebook to find out what my kids were doing, and then I stayed on Facebook because it’s a way to filter through all of the media. I mean there’s so many movies, TV shows, etc. Most of my friends on Facebook are involved in criticism, or filmmaking, or the arts. And whenever they see something that interests them, they send up a flag. And I do the same.

Some people like to avoid conflict, you don’t seem like you’re one of ‘em. “Schrader, he’s a shit stirrer. That’s what he does.”
Yeah, I mean …  a little agitas makes the day go better. As a filmmaker I’ve always been an agitator. I feel like Taxi Driver was an agitation, and Blue Collar. If you’re raised in an environment that not only wants to control what you do, but also wants to control how you think … well it takes a lot of propulsion to get out of that. Like the propulsion it takes for a bullet to get out of a gun. And you have to build up that energy. When you leave Grand Rapids, if you don’t have a lot of energy, you’re gonna get as far as Kalamazoo. They’re gonna bring you back. So you’ve gotta go out with a lot of force, and then that becomes part of who you are.

I don’t know exactly when it came up, it was in the past few months, you said something about how you couldn’t make Blue Collar now.
I don’t know if I couldn’t make it, I wouldn’t.

Why wouldn’t you make it? Because of the race thing?
Yeah, because you can’t win. Even Spike got drilled.

Well, is that enough to keep from making a film that you might wanna make?
Well, is that enough to keep from making a film that you might wanna make? If the idea is so inspired, and it’s so possessive, then of course you’re willing to take some flack. And in fact I thought I would get flack for First Reformed, I was really surprised.

Who was gonna be mad at you? The Evangelicals?
I was there for The Last Temptation of Christ. I know how that goes down. I know we were crucified at Last Temptation, by people who didn’t even see the film. In order to get ahead of the curve on this, I did a series of lectures at seminaries about transcendental style. I showed the film, and I went to Calvin College, I went to Fuller Theological, I went to Yale Divinity, building up a reservoir of Christian scholars, should the Evangelicals come after me. But they never did.

They would never see a movie like this. If it was making $100 million dollars, then they would be mad.
They would never see The Last Temptation of Christ, but it didn’t stop them from getting it banned.

Can faith do anything about these three horsemen of the apocalypse you’re talking about?
I don’t think so. I don’t think our gorilla brains are gonna get out of this one. I think that we’ve gone about as far as evolution can take us.

You’re not showing much faith in evolution there, are you?
Well, we’re still animals who are soiling our nests and can’t stop. And animal cultures do perish. Things don’t necessarily survive. Whole communities have perished out of stupidity. What happened to the Easter Islanders? They chopped down all their trees and died. And by the time the Spanish got there, there were like four or five people left out of 15,000. What they did on Rapa Nui, that little rock in the middle of the ocean, shows that we aren’t necessarily smart enough to survive.

So do we care if humanity perishes? We’re just one factor in a long, long, long saga.
Yeah, but whoever comes after us, whatever life form or silicone-based life form that is, they’re gonna have a hell of a museum.

Annotations by Britina Cheng.

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Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Schrader’s alma mater, named for John Calvin, the Protestant reformer. A 1963 Ingmar Bergman film set in a small rural Swedish church. Young is a British film educator and former chairman of School of Theater, Film and Television at UCLA. Directed by Bruce Clark, written by Clark and Marc Siegler, produced by David Dawdy. The film opened to 23 L.A. drive-ins in 1969. A Washington Post film critic from 1969 to 1984. Brody wrote film essays for the New York Times, Village Voice, and LA Weekly. A French film first debuted in 1959 directed by Robert Bresson. Often considered one of his greatest works. Another film by Robert Bresson from 1951 about an ill young priest who is assigned his first parish where he is unwelcome. Danish for “The Word,” Ordet is a 1955 film directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer about a devout farmer named Morten, his three sons (including Mikkel, an agnostic, and Johannes, who believes himself to be Jesus Christ), and their divergent religious beliefs. When Mikkel’s wife endures a dangerous childbirth, a doctor saves her. But Johannes warns Morten that death is imminent unless he has faith in him [as Christ]. Morten refuses and Mikkel’s wife suddenly dies. During the wake, Johannes declares that she can be resurrected if they have faith in him. When Mikkel’s daughter takes Johannes’s hand and asks God to revive her mother, Mikkel’s wife starts to breathe. In the end, this miracle led Mikkel to find faith when he originally had none. Their faiths are illuminated and tested from this tragedy and they all gain insight into each other’s perspectives. Andrei Tarkovsky’s final film, a 1986 Swedish drama about a man who bargains with God to prevent an impending nuclear holocaust, includes a levitation scene where two lovers are entwined, floating above a bed. Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985) was co-written and directed by Schrader about the life of the Japanese writer, Yukio Mishima. This 1997 film was adapted from the original novel of the same name, written by Russell Banks about a troubled, small-town cop who investigates a hunting death. The film won an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role and was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role. Schrader directed this film, a 1990 adaptation of an Ian McEwan novel of the same name. A 1992 drama Schrader wrote and directed, starring Willem Dafoe, Susan Sarandon and Dana Delany. Schrader co-wrote and directed this 1982 American erotic horror film that opened to mixed reviews and made approximately $1.6 million in its opening weekend. American film producer and studio head. One of the founders of A24, along with Daniel Katz and John Hodges. A 2016 crime thriller adapted from Edward Bunker’s 1995 novel of the same name, starring Nicolas Cage and Willem Dafoe. In the film, three former convicts are hired to kidnap a baby for ransom. A 2014 thriller starring Nicolas Cage. It currently has a 9 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. After a failed attempt to murder the senator, Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) goes on a bloody rampage, killing men involved with controlling prostitution in the city. He is lauded by the media and Iris’s (Jodie Foster) father for saving her and the city from miscreants. Travis then picks up his ex-girlfriend in his cab, where she expresses remorse for rejecting him, before he leaves her behind. Schrader made his directorial debut with Blue Collar, a 1978 crime drama film about a trio of Detroit autoworkers who rob their own union. A film about race and the working class, Spike Lee included it in his list of “List of Films All Aspiring Filmmakers Must See.” The Last Temptation of Christ is a 1988 film written by Schrader and directed by Scorsese adapted from a 1955 novel of the same name. The film depicts Christ imagining himself engaging in lurid sex and other forms of temptations. Christian religious groups were outraged, including some ministers who vowed a boycott of Scorsese’s films. The film was banned in many countries for several years, and is still banned in the Philippines and Singapore.
Paul Schrader on First Reformed and His Oscar Hopes