Venice: Paul Schrader Predicts Post-Human Species Will Replace Human Race

Courtesy of Venice International Film Festival
'First Reformed'

The writer of films including 'Taxi Driver' and 'Raging Bull' and director of 'American Gigolo' does not see much hope in the future of the human race: "I don't think we as a species will outlive this century. The world is going to be fine. We're not."

While climate change is an issue that looms in the background of several films in Venice's competition lineup, writer-director Paul Schrader tackles it head on in First Reformed, leaving little doubt for anything but humanity's ultimate destruction.

Ethan Hawke plays a priest, Toller, tormented by the death of his son. A pregnant woman, Mary (Amanda Seyfried), comes asking for help for her depressed activist husband, Michael (Philip Ettinger). He convinces Toller that because of human destruction, the planet will soon be unlivable. Michael would rather Mary abort the baby then bring a child into such a world, and his inner turmoil soon latches onto Toller.

"I don't think we as a species will outlive this century,"” Schrader told The Hollywood Reporter. "The world is going to be fine. We're not."

"We'll be evolved," he continued, predicting the ultimate replacement of the human race. "There will be a post-human species, which we've already seen in bits and pieces already. Carbon-based intelligence is now giving way to silicon-based intelligence, and eventually carbon-based intelligence will be seen as a period of history on the earth."

When asked if any films will survive the apocalypse, Schrader hypothesized on our potential successors: "They're going to have one hell of a museum, a museum to humanity. It'll be a great museum. And hopefully movies will have a room in there."

Although the characters in First Reformed predict the beginning of the end as soon as 2050, Schrader, 71, admitted that it's not something that he needs to worry about. "I'm out of here," he said. "I'm in the first-class car. I'm going to be fine. My kids are fucked."

"For me, it's kind of easy, because I'm a product of the most frivolous generation on the history of the planet, this baby boomer generation," he continued. "We have lived in the cone of affluence and ease, of leisure time. And no one in the history of the planet has had it easier than we have, and we responded by fucking it up."

"So the harder choice is for our children and for their children after them, which is what this one character says," he said. "What do you say to your child when your child looks at you and says, 'You knew this was happening. And you did nothing about it. What do you say?' You say, 'Well, too bad for you. We had a good time.' So it is kind of bleak."

Schrader described the younger generations in one word: "Despair."

"We now have the first generation of people who no longer believe that life will be better for them than it was for their parents," he said. "It was always a premise of humanity that things will get better, that if I work, sacrifice, I can improve my lot. Kids today know that they won't improve their lot, no matter how much they work. Well that's kind of a bleak cloud to live under. And it leads to all kinds of extremism, whether it be drugs or behavior or in general apathy. I don't think the opioid explosion has to be somehow connected to the sense of hopelessness."

Despite the pervading gloom, First Reformed does explore themes of redemption, offering courage and love as the antidotes to despair.

Hawke believes the characters' choices are extreme ones: "I'm grateful to be alive," he said. "I don't care what shape the world is in. I'm happy my parents had me."

But he does hope the film will start a conversation on what more people can do today for future generations. "Paul Schrader's not the only person looking to the religious community for guidance and leadership and what to do with an ever-changing world," said Hawke. "And we've gotten very little leadership from the religious community about where to place our fears and anxieties about the environment."

"We have a Pope right now who is really trying to do a good job with it," Hawke added. "He's really preaching this a lot. If the religious community could take up the baton of the environmental concern, it would have major, major impact. I think it's a serious question that Paul is pitching."

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