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Film / The Believer

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The Believer is a 2001 drama film directed by Henry Bean. Ryan Gosling plays an Orthodox Jew who turns to Neo-Nazism as a result of his poor self-image. The film follows the character as he tries to reconcile his heritage with the ideology which hates it.

This film provides examples of:

  • Boomerang Bigot: Danny becomes a virulent anti-Semite and neo-Nazi, despite being Jewish.
  • Converting for Love: A particularly interesting instance, where Carla appears to have converted to Judaism by the end of the movie. Thanks to her self-hating Jewish boyfriend, who's also a Neo-Nazi.
  • Deus ex Machina: An In-Universe version, where a bomb that Danny and the other Neo-Nazis planted in a synagogue fails to go off because the timer stopped at thirteen minutes. Because thirteen is a Sacred Number in Judaism, the rabbi there takes it as a sign of divine intervention.
  • Driven to Suicide: At the end of the film, Danny reveals to the synagogue congregation that there is a bomb under the pulpit where he's standing set to go off, giving them time to escape. He does not join them, however, but waits there to die apparently out of guilt.
  • Flock of Wolves: Danny starts a class advocating Nazism, and is later told most "students" are police informants, not actual neo-Nazis.
  • God Is Evil: Danny is shown discussing the Binding of Isaac story in the yeshiva, saying that it was not really about Abraham having faith in God, but rather God trying to get unquestioning obedience, and concludes God is really a malevolent bully. This, along with his claim that Jews are an essentially feminine, weak race, was the only hint which we get as to why he turned against his heritage.
  • If You Taunt Him, You Will Be Just Like Him: The skinhead main character and his skinhead friends walk into a kosher deli and start loudly demanding ham and cheese sandwiches. They successfully provoke the owner of the deli into attacking them (after they refuse to leave), and the judge who sentences them finds both sides equally at fault.
  • Internalized Categorism: It's a character study of the inner conflict a Jewish man feels when he decides to become a fanatical Neo-Nazi.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Carla is shown topless having sex with Curtis (to spite Danny's overtures). Then again after having sex with Danny. She also wears a very revealing top at one point.
  • The Nothing After Death. Deconstructed. During the interview with the reporter, Danny describes Jewishness as "nothingness without end." This phrase is echoed later when a rabbi is quoted translating the kabbalistic term ein sof (a mystical term for God) as "nothingness without end." (The director, Henry Bean, has admitted this was deliberate artistic license, as the term translates simply as "without end.") The final scene, after Danny dies, shows Danny endlessly ascending a staircase as his schoolteacher tells him "There's nobody up there."
  • Those Wacky Nazis: The Neo-Nazis are divided between thuggish, violent skinheads vs. clean cut normal-looking moderate fascists who oppose violence on pragmatic grounds.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The film is loosely based on an incident in the 1960s in which a New York Times reporter uncovered the fact that a high-ranking member of the American Nazi Party, Dan Burros, was Jewish. The movie is set in the present day and makes the closet Jew into a Neo-Nazi skinhead (a group that didn't exist in the 1960s). The portrayal of this character and his psychological profile is largely fictional, but it was inspired by anecdotes about the real person in which he would bring knishes to the Neo-Nazi meetings, oddly seeming to embrace parts of his Jewish heritage even as he scorned it.
  • You Are What You Hate: The film is about an Orthodox Jew who becomes a Neo-Nazi. Based loosely on Dan Burros.