A Cypto-jew and the Nazi underground movment “The Believer”
Ryan Gosling stars as Danny Balint, a Nazi youth whose influential way with words and speeches has earned him high regard amongst the underground movements in New York City. He has the ability to attract the right kind of attention to get where he wants to go; if Hitler had a reincarnation, this just might be it. But something else is troubling Danny, something rather unexpected: he himself happens to be of Jewish heritage. We see it not so much in words as we do in actions: during the breaking and entering into a synagogue by his neo-Nazi group, he is hesitant to destroy. When the time comes for him to prove himself by taking the life of a Jew, he backs down. Upon meeting Carla (Summer Phoenix), the daughter of a Fascist group leader (Theresa Russell), he does not try to dissuade her from learning the Hebrew language in order to read the Talmud.
somewhere near the end of the movie Danny is asked by his yeshiva childhood friends after stating their present occupations (Rabbi, Hebrew teacher, etc.) “What about you? What are you doing? Something strange, l bet. Uh,… No, it’s kind of an underground thing. Like an artist? No.Uh, like a private business.” indicating in my opinion that he was following the natural cores of his Talmudic teachings he received as a child. Even the scene opens with a Rabbi saying the line “The TaImud teaches us…”
Religious doubt leads to violence in this slice-of-lifer that won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival — now finally making tentative steps in general release.
Jewish self-hatred is an interesting foundation for a film, if only because it’s a subject never explored by an industry still apologizing for the Holocaust. The lengths to which someone will go to redefine and prove themselves a member of the enemy circle are certainly compelling. But when the main character in question dives between extremes without a single clear definition of his motives, the strength of the narrative suffers. A double life can only work when you are aware of some of the triggers that push some semblance of reality into the character in question.
Danny’s (Ryan Gosling) Jewish schooling has apparently left him with so many doubts, that the only cure for his intellectual suffering is the impenetrable wish to kill them all. Jews run and own everything anyway, so this will be a popular new sport to reset society, right? Finish what Hitler started!
Danny is encouraged along this bastardly streak by a Fascist circle he easily, miraculously even, finds on the Internet, headed by Curtis (Billy Zane, Titanic) and Lina (Theresa Russell, Black Widow). These two folks don’t have the passionate quality that Danny has when he speaks, even though they have the intellectual capacity to back themselves in a fight, which Danny can’t. With each prank Danny pulls, they edge him towards public speaking for fundraising, while their daughter Carla (Summer Phoenix) finds ways to uncover Danny’s Judaism and sleep with him.
Danny’s brutality is acceptable because that is how we first see him. His mindset is a little hard to swallow, because an intelligent 26-year old could definitely find better pursuits, even when approaching his internal boiling point. His struggle as he is received farther into the Nazi underworld is nicely portrayed with poignant undertones. Danny’s internal battle is compulsively watchable once these theorems are digested, like taking a geometry course.
The problem becomes why he all of the sudden feels an affinity for his previous life, seemingly just by looking at Torah scrolls. It’s one thing to fake missing a gunshot because actually killing another person takes more mental preparation than you bargained for. It’s another to begin vandalizing a synagogue, only to stop in the middle of it because the Torah has been uncovered. These quick changes of behavioral pattern are rampant throughout the film, and hurt the overall quality of pain Danny is experiencing.
And, unfortunately, due to stodgy, soap opera-ish dialogue, the rest of the cast comes across as stick figures reading lines from a TelePrompTer. For all of the assumptive commentary spoken by Danny’s elders and leaders, not one of them holds an emotional link to their words that makes them believable. Maybe this is supposed to complement Danny’s rapid mood swings, but instead leaves each scene boringly predictable in terms of interaction and outcome.
The Believer is a good idea at its base. If Danny’s journey between despising and affirming his background had been better plotted, it could even be used to discuss religious questioning with those institutions that are always complaining about the apathy of the young, no matter what the denomination.
The above article can be found at: The-Believer
Transcript of the mentioned excerpt above: The TaImud teaches us… – May we peeI oranges on Shabbos? – Yes, but… ..peeI them immediateIy. – If you see a… – Is it permitted… – (many voices overIap) – Danny? Danny? – (voices continue) – Danny! Hey! Stuart. Schoenbaum. Shlomo. – Shlomo. – Danny. God! God, it’s… it’s been years. – How you doin’? How are you doin’? – l’m doing great. l’m at the rabbinic program up at JTS. JTS. What about you? What are you doing? Something strange, l bet. Uh,… No, it’s kind of an underground thing. Like an artist? No. Uh, like a private business. Hey. You remember Miriam? Yeah. Hey. Hey. She’s at Yale Law now, interning for the District Attorney. We’re getting married next spring in Jerusalem. That’s great. Maybe Danny’d like to come to the minyan for Rosh Hashanah. That’s a great idea. We’re davening with a group from the seminary. Guess who comes? Avi! You two can go at it like you used to. Danny and Avi used to argue about everything. Talmud, Torah, politics,… – ..girls. Always ended in a fist-fight. – l remember. l always won. The arguments, anyway.