The Believer is Henry Bean’s 2001 flick, based on a true story. It stars Ryan Gosling, Summer Phoenix and Billy Zane.
The story surrounds Danny Balint, a Jewish man who also is a Neo-Nazi Fascist. Although he was raised as Jewish, he’s struggled immensely all his life with the hypocrisies that holy books like the Torah contain. Although at a young age he considered himself a lover of God, he felt that God was a selfish, pompous being who simply tortured humans in order to demonstrate his power an authority. His real woe lies in the fact that he is looking for God in his life, but everything his Jewish religion teaches essentially says God is nothingness, and therefore Danny questions whether or not God exists at all.
Danny attends fascists meetings and roams around with a gang of three main guys who share his anti-Semitic views (Interestingly, I found the scene in the beginning where his gang argues with two black men to be very similar to Clockwork Orange, especially in Danny’s wardrobe of cuffed jeans and suspenders. Perhaps the films share underlying morals as well.)
While there are similar films in existence like American History X, I enjoyed The Believer because it was extremely informative and seemed well-researched, although it certainly did not depict as much violence as the film mentioned previously.
Danny argues that Jews have done nothing but try to dominate the world, and have introduced nothing but perversion, the atom bomb and communism. He hates how Jews don’t fight back against their oppressors (including himself,) and later in the film he suggests that Jews enjoy being oppressed because it makes them and their cause more powerful. In a grandeur statement, he also says that if Hitler didn’t exist, the Jews would have created him because of this need for suffering.
It becomes a large controversy when a reporter outs Balint as an anti-Semitic Jew. However, the film points out that even some high-ranking Nazi officials were Jews, which brings up perhaps the main theme of this movie: What drives someone to be so self-loathing?
Danny is often conflicted through flashbacks after meeting a former Holocaust victim and hearing about him witnessing his own son’s death. In these visions, Danny becomes both the Nazi official and the father watching his son, representing his inner conflict.
As the film progresses, it’s clear that all his life he’s been waiting for God to prove his theories right, dating back to when he was a young schoolboy, fighting with his teacher about the conflicting ideas in the Torah, and he got up in class and shouted, “strike me down!” Essentially he wanted God to prove his arrogance by killing him, however in the end he ends up killing himself.
When he dies, we see him running up the stairs of his former Jewish school, and he seems to get nowhere, while at every stairwell his former teacher is there saying “maybe you were right; Moses’ son Isaac really did die.” In this sense, it appears Danny is stuck in a form of purgatory, which raises the question of whether he landed there due to his belief that God is nothing, or whether Danny truly was acting the entire time he was anti-Semitic, which is why he landed in purgatory instead of hell (Jews don’t believe in hell.)
Overall, this is a very powerful film whose core seems to ask the question, if God is intangible in life, should we not believe in him? In addition, because this film brings up debates about both fascists and Jews, anyone who strongly believes in ideals of either group will most likely not enjoy this film.