We need more directors willing to take risks with films like Get Out.
Censors feel they are safe with objectionable material but must protect others who are not as smart or moral. The same impulse tempts the reviewer of "The Believer." Here is a fiercely controversial film about a Jew who becomes an anti-Semite. When I saw it at Sundance 2001, where it won the Grand Jury Prize, I wrote "some feared the film could do more harm than good." I shared those fears. The film's hero is so articulate in his retailing of anti-Semitic beliefs that his words, I thought, might find the wrong ears. I understand the film, I was saying--but are you to be trusted with it?
Certainly the movie has been a hot potato. After a screening at the Simon Wiesenthal Center inspired audience members to protest it, no major distributor would pick it up. Showtime scheduled it for a cable showing, which was canceled in the aftermath of 9/11. Then it was finally shown in the spring and now has theatrical distribution from small Fireworks Pictures. In the meantime, to its Sundance awards it has added Independent Spirit Awards for best screenplay and best first feature (both to director Henry Bean), best actor (Ryan Gosling) and best supporting actress (Summer Phoenix).
Few doubt it is a good film. But do we really need a movie, right now, about a Jewish neo-Nazi? I am not the person to answer that question for you. You have to answer it for yourself. The film's anti-Semitism is articulate but wrong, and the conflict between what the hero says and what he believes (or does not want to believe) is at the very center of the story.
Gosling's character, named Danny Balint, is based on a real person. The Jerusalem Report writes: "The film has its roots in a true story. Daniel Burros was a nice Jewish boy from Queens who somehow went from being his rabbi's star pupil to a hotheaded proponent of the long-defunct Third Reich. After a stint in the Army, he became involved with the American Nazi Party and the Ku Klux Klan. In 1965, following Burros' arrest at a KKK event in New York City, the New York Times disclosed that he was Jewish. Hours after the paper hit the stands, Burros took his own life."