The Believer

August 23, 2001 0 By Fans
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A young Jewish man develops a fiercely anti-Semitic worldview. Based on the true story of a KKK member in the 1960s who was revealed to be Jewish by a New York Times reporter.

Release Year: 2001

Rating: 7.3/10 (15,561 voted)

Critic's Score: 75/100

Henry Bean

Stars: Ryan Gosling, Summer Phoenix, Peter Meadows

"The Believer" explores a Jewish student's private journey to understand the meaning of Judaism in his life. Set in New York City, the Plot follows a morally confused young adult struggling with the conflict between his beliefs and his heritage. "The Believer" examines themes of religion, family, and self-loathing. It is a psychological examination into the forces of intolerance, both on the individual and society as a whole.

Writers: Henry Bean, Henry Bean


Ryan Gosling

Danny Balint

Peter Meadows

Orthodox Student

Garret Dillahunt


Kris Eivers


Joel Garland


Billy Zane

Curtis Zampf

Theresa Russell

Lina Moebius

Summer Phoenix

Carla Moebius

Jack Drummond

Old Coot

Sig Libowitz

Rav Zingesser

James G. McCaffrey

Young Avi

Jacob Green

Young Danny

Frank Winters

Young Stuart

Ronald Guttman

Danny's Father

Heather Goldenhersh



Official Website:
Official Site |

Release Date: 23 August 2001

Filming Locations: New York City, New York, USA

Box Office Details

Budget: $1,500,000


Opening Weekend: $26,236
(19 May 2002)
(4 Screens)

Gross: $406,035
(29 September 2002)

Technical Specs


Did You Know?


Inspired by the story of Dan Burros, an American Jew, who joined (and left) the American Nazi Party, and then joined the United Klans of America (KKK). Burros killed himself when a journalist revealed his heritage in The New York Times.


Audio/visual unsynchronized:
In the DVD version, the words "a decade" are silent in the phrase "The Thousand-Year Reich barely lasted a decade…" even though Zampf is still mouthing it.


Young Danny:
I'm the only one who does believe. I see him for the power-drunk madman he is. And we're supposed to worship such a deity? I say never.

User Review

The fine line between love and hate

Rating: 9/10

"The Believer" contains rare insights into Jewish identity, and it's a
shame that the film was withheld from mainstream audiences due to
ongoing controversy. But it deals with an ugly subject, and it handles
that subject in an ambiguous way that makes many people, including many
Jews, uncomfortable. Make no mistake about it, though: the film is
uncompromisingly pro-Jewish, and the director, himself a Jew, has said
that he became more religious because of his work on the film.
Ironically, the film is likely to resonate the most with Jews, though
it also contains universal themes familiar to anyone who has ever
struggled with faith.

The idea of a white supremacist who's secretly Jewish is not new to me.
I've long known about Frank Collin, who caused a national controversy
in the 1970s when he planned to have his neo-Nazi group march in a
predominantly Jewish suburb of Skokie, Illinois. It was later
discovered that Collin's father was not only Jewish but a Holocaust
survivor. This case is so bizarre that it leads one to assume the guy
was simply insane. While there may be some truth to that assumption, it
isn't a satisfactory explanation. What would possibly lead a Jew to
join a group that believes in the inherent evil of all Jews? What is
such a person thinking? How does such a person live with himself,
rationalize his own actions?

What "The Believer" accomplishes is to go inside the head of one such
person and provide a compelling, believable explanation for how such a
person could exist. The film is based loosely on a 1960s incident in
which a high-ranking member of the KKK was discovered to be Jewish. The
movie updates the story to modern times and depicts the young man,
Danny, as a skinhead rather than a Klansman. His characterization is
speculative but reveals a deep understanding of human nature.

What's truly bizarre about this story is that Danny never abandons his
Jewish roots entirely. After attending a neo-fascist meeting, he goes
home to his family, whom he treats with respect. He even performs
Jewish rituals in private. Yet he terrorizes a Jewish kid on the
subway, tells his neo-Nazi buddies that he wants to assassinate a
prominent Jewish diplomat, and spouts what sounds on the surface like
typical white supremacist ideology. But he's not, as we might suspect,
a hypocrite saying things he doesn't believe, or a two-faced lunatic.
His philosophy is surprisingly coherent. Sure, he's a walking
contradiction, but so are many other people who have a love-hate
relationship with their religious background.

His anti-Semitic beliefs all revolve around a single idea: he thinks
Jews are too weak and passive. Sometimes he adopts a macho outlook,
since he doesn't want to be associated with a people stereotyped as
brainy intellectuals. On a deeper level, he dislikes the persecution
theme in Jewish history and culture. But is this theme a sign of
weakness or strength? Danny isn't sure. He eventually decides that Jews
gain strength from their persecution; they seem to grow stronger the
worse they're treated, and the biggest threat to their survival is not
those who want to destroy them but those who don't care. This is a far
more Jewish idea than an anti-Semitic one. Several Jewish holidays,
including Passover, Purim, and Chanukah, commemorate events where Jews
grew strong after periods of persecution. Many Jews today believe that
assimilation into the culture is a greater danger than genocide,
because it could signal the disappearance of Jews as a distinct people.
As Irving Kristol once remarked, "The problem is that they don't want
to persecute us, they want to marry us."

The implication is that Danny actually admires Judaism, and that his
anti-Semitism is his own warped way of affirming his Jewish identity in
a world where, he fears, Jews are increasingly seen as irrelevant–not
loved or hated but simply ignored. His ambivalent feelings escalate as
the movie progresses. When he has his neo-Nazi buddies deface a
synagogue, he can't bring himself to damage the Torah scroll, and he
secretly takes it home with him. His intimate knowledge of Jewish
beliefs and practices looks strange to his fellow skinheads, to say the
least. He tells them that he studies these things in order to know the
enemy, pointing out that Eichmann did the same thing. Do they buy this
explanation? Apparently they do, but Danny's girlfriend is a little
smarter than that, and she finds herself strangely drawn to the
religion he's running away from.

Like "American History X," this movie contains disturbing scenes where
the protagonist articulately expresses his bigoted ideas. There are
other intelligent characters who argue back, but not everything he
spouts gets answered, so I can understand why this movie makes some
viewers uncomfortable. In one particularly distasteful scene, Danny
mocks Holocaust survivors, and while they do answer him eloquently for
the most part, his raising of the old "sheep to the slaughter" canard
is left open.

Nevertheless, this a powerful and compelling film, with a lead
performance by Ryan Gosling that manages to rival Ed Norton's
Oscar-nominated performance in "American History X." We see early on
that Danny is capable of doing appalling things, but his moral
conflicts are then presented so persuasively that we cannot help but
empathize with him. The climax is painfully ambiguous. Those who are
looking for easy answers may want to skip this film. But they will be
missing out on what is easily the most authentic and profound
exploration of Jewish self-hatred ever portrayed on screen.