Political Film Society - Newsletter #135 - June 1, 2002

June 1, 2002


The BelieverThe Believer
, directed and written by Henry Bean, is the most controversial film of the year, so any review is bound to be misinterpreted until the reader sees the film. The story is based on the book One More Victim by Arthur Gelb and A. M. Rosenthal, which in turn was inspired by a New York Times interview with Daniel Burrows, at twenty-eight years old the number two person in the American Nazi Party, who was suspected of being Jewish. In the film, skinhead Danny Balint (played by Ryan Gosling), the central character, purports to be a Neo-Nazi Jew. In the beginning, as credits roll, we hear a dispute in a yeshiva about alternative interpretations of the event in which Yahweh asks Abraham to kill his son Isaac, with a bespectacled youth arguing that the point of the story is not to show the benefits of faith in Yahweh but instead to prove that Yahweh is omnipotent and demands that believers cast aside rationality and simply obey without question. The debate is presented as a paradigm for passivity of the Jews in the face of the Holocaust, which is turn is later mirrored in the resignation of Danny's father, an invalid who sits at home resigned to his fate. Next, we see Danny, some ten years after the debate with his rabbi, rough up a Jewish student, wearing a yarmulke, for no apparent reason other than his hatred for Jews. Thus, we see him as a bully even before we know what his views are as an adult.

The same belligerence is later directed toward Blacks and even toward a daughter of a Christian fascist who wants to be slapped around by him while having sex. Danny meets that daughter, Carla (played by Summer Phoenix), at a soiree organized by Lina (played by Theresa Russell). After Danny enters the fascist's residence, where a discussion is in progress, Danny expounds the view that Jews should be exterminated. Yet later, when Lina organizes a lecture for Danny, he surprises her by saying that the way to defeat the influence of Jews is to love them so that they assimilate, that is, for Jews to intermarry and thereby to lose their identity. Moreover, he suggests that Jews invented anti-Semitism to draw attention to themselves so that they would not be assimilated. Some of the latter views have, of course, been articulated elsewhere, including the pages of the New York Review of Books, so what is unusual about The Believer is that they appear undigested in a film that can best be evaluated by purchasing the video to show to a group, followed by discussion. Clearly, the most profound theme that runs through is similar to Fight Club (1999), namely, that globalization has brought about such anomie that human needs for community and other traditional values are no longer addressed by the major political leaders, so solutions outside the mainstream are all that are left. But that theme is eclipsed by endless arguments about the contradictions of Jewish theology, including the irrational ravings of Danny, a mentally disturbed forklift operator who works in a fast food warehouse, envies Jews who are rich, pumps iron to feel macho, and assaults poor people. MH