The Believer (film)  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Believer is a 2001 American drama film directed by Henry Bean and written by Bean and Mark Jacobson. It stars Ryan Gosling as Daniel Balint, a Jew who becomes a Neo-Nazi. The film is loosely based on the true story of Dan Burros, a member of the American Nazi Party and the New York branch of the United Klans of America. He committed suicide after being revealed as Jewish by a New York Times reporter.


Daniel Balint is a former Jewish yeshiva student, brilliant but troubled, who is now a fanatically violent Neo-Nazi in New York in his early twenties. As a child, he often challenged his teachers with unorthodox interpretations of scripture. He once argued that the Binding of Isaac was not about Abraham's faith but God's power: that God did not want Abraham to accomplish a particular task but instead asks unquestioning obedience, which Abraham refuses to give. He concluded that God is a bully.

Daniel finds a meeting of fascists run by Curtis Zampf and Lina Moebius, where he also makes a connection with Lina's daughter Carla. Daniel advocates killing Jews, and a banker named Manzetti in particular, but Curtis and Lina oppose harming Jews on practical if not moral grounds. Impressed with Daniel's intelligence, Lina invites him to their camp retreat in the country. Afterward, Daniel and his fellow Neo-Nazi friends pick a fight with two African-American men, get arrested, and are bailed out of jail by Carla. He spends the night with her but returns to the home of his ailing father. Daniel searches his Hebrew school notebooks and finds a semiautomatic pistol. He is harangued by his sister Linda for his Nazi beliefs, but she also urges him to stay and have Shabbat dinner with their father. The men watch television, which is forbidden, leading them to commiserate on the incomprehensibility of Jewish law.

Guy Danielsen, a journalist writing an article on hate groups in the wake of the Oklahoma City Bombing, meets Daniel for an interview. He listens to Daniel's antisemitic rant, then reveals that he had been in contact with Daniel's old rabbi Stanley Nadelman and knows that Daniel is Jewish. Daniel pulls out his pistol and threatens to commit suicide if Guy publishes the truth.

Daniel goes to Lina's fascist camp retreat, where he meets Drake, a skilled marksman, along with an explosives expert. Six of the retreat participants, including Daniel, go to a Jewish deli, where they mock the other patrons and torment the owner about Jewish dietary laws until a fight breaks out. After this fight, Daniel and his friends are required by a court to take sensitivity training, where they listen to the experiences of Holocaust survivors. One talks about how his infant son was murdered by a Nazi. Daniel is enraged that the man did nothing to save his son, but all the survivors assert that Daniel would also have done nothing to avoid being killed, and he walks out in anger.

The story will haunt him, and he imagines himself as both the Nazi and the Jew. Later that night, Daniel and the other Neo-Nazis break into a synagogue, vandalize it, and plant a bomb under the pulpit. They also tear, trample, and spit on a Torah scroll, though Daniel protests. After they leave, Daniel takes the scroll and a tallit with him. The next morning, the Neo-Nazis hear on the news that the bomb failed to go off because the timer froze at thirteen minutes, which the rabbi explains is a mystical number in Judaism. He says that he believes this means that God protected the synagogue. Back in his cabin, Daniel cleans and repairs the scroll, envisioning himself as the Nazi soldier in the Holocaust survivor's story. He puts on the tallit under his shirt and performs a combination of the Nazi salute and a gesture used in Jewish prayers.

Drake soon approaches him with a plan to kill Manzetti, so the two ambush him outside a temple, where Daniel fires but misses. Drake sees the tallit under Daniel's shirt and realizes that he is a Jew, so Daniel shoots him and escapes. He continues to meet with Lina and Curtis, who want to start an above-ground movement to bring fascism into the political mainstream, inviting Jews, blacks, and liberals. Daniel reluctantly agrees to help them raise funds. At the meetings that follow Daniel first charms, then enrages, their potential donors with his intellectual games, leading to his eventual expulsion. When the group hears that Manzetti was killed, Lina suspects Daniel, since he proposed the assassination, but Drake is the real killer.

In the meantime, Carla comforts Daniel and the two sleep together at his home. When she sees the stolen Torah, she asks Daniel to teach her Hebrew, ostensibly for intellectual reasons. They also begin to practice Jewish rituals. He soon runs into an old friend and his fiancée, Stuart and Miriam, who invite him to a Rosh Hashanah service, assuming that he is an anti-racist skinhead. When Daniel arrives, another old friend calls him out as a racist skinhead. As he is leaving, Miriam, who works for the District Attorney, tells him that half of the people in Lina Moebius' meetings are informants for the D.A. Later she asks Daniel to record conversations at a meeting so she can help him with possible charges stemming from the Manzetti killing. He refuses because as Miriam confesses she doesn't care about the truth, she only cares about Daniel.

As Yom Kippur approaches, Daniel calls Miriam and insists on taking Stuart's place reading the Torah at the bimah on Yom Kippur. He and his friends plant a new bomb under the temple's pulpit even though they find it reinforced, limiting the explosion. When Daniel takes the pulpit the next day, he is shocked to see Carla in the congregation. He again imagines himself in the story the Holocaust survivor told him, this time as both the Nazi and the Jew. With five minutes to go, Daniel stops and tells to everyone to get out because there is a bomb, but refuses to leave himself.

Daniel is shown in a mystical vision, ascending the stairs in the Jewish school he left as a child. His old teacher approaches, hoping to talk about the Binding of Isaac, and suggests that Isaac died on the mountain and was reborn in the next world. But Daniel ignores him and keeps going, up, and up, infinitely, as his teacher urges him to stop, calling out, "There's nothing up there."


See also

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