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The Believer


Year: 2001 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 (XWide) 
Certificate: BBFC 15 Cert – Not suitable for under 15s 
Subtitles: The level of subtitling in this film is unknown to WSC 
Directed by Unknown 
Starring: Unknown  

The Believer, on the surface, seems to be little more than American History X with a twist. In it, Ryan Gosling plays a young, brutal and fiercely anti-Semitic skinhead who is actually Jewish himself. This paradoxical existence brings with it an inherent self-loathing and inner turmoil that are constantly bubbling to the surface, and indeed form the crux of the film. Whereas American History X tackled racism with a much wider scope, using its characters in part as metaphors for the state of society (the film's very title giving it the air of an all-encompassing study), The Believer narrows its focus, concentrating, as the title suggests, on the individual.

And it is the individual, or rather, an individual performance, which elevates the film to the realms of other, performance-based classics. Like Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, and Christian Bale in American Psycho (amongst others), Gosling's performance is one of assured confidence and impressive subtlety. He is the emotional centre of the film, and though we cannot help but abhor his brutal actions, we are nevertheless drawn into his world, and manage to grasp some understanding of what makes him what he is.

The plot of The Believer is fairly simplistic. A young, violent skinhead is recruited by an underground white-supremacist network to give speeches and rally the troops, whilst all the time he is confronting his own inner-demons. Interesting flashbacks provide eye-opening moments of his early developments, as he struggles to come to terms with his religious heritage in Scripture classes. As the film progresses and he becomes increasingly militant, his indecision and deep inner rifts push to the surface and cannot help but lead to tragedy.

Although this film received nothing like the publicity of the higher budget, higher profile American History X, it is arguably a superior film, and certainly a more subtle one. Without the directorial flourishes and brutal set-pieces, The Believer comes across as a thoughtful, acutely uncomfortable, and extraordinarily powerful motion picture which will send you into the night with a whole host of important social questions preying on your mind.

Greg Taylor

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Screenings of this film:

2001/2002 Summer Term (35mm)