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September 17, 2003

The Believer

In one night my subscription to the Sundance Channel, which I usually ignore, has paid off.

I don't take film seriously because serious film almost always requires discussion, and discussion of film very much like the discussion of music requires language to do things that can't be done with language. That is why film is film and not text. So as a writer, I start trying to appropriate the language of film criticism and I find it taxing. Sometimes you just have to look.

But occasionally there are films that are expressive in a literary way because the ideas they present and dramatize can be written about. The Holocaust, its deniers and Jew haters in America are such a story. 'The Believer' nails it.

If I could remember the name of the protagonist in this film, and if enough people had seen it, I'm rather confident we could rid ourselves of the trite phrase 'self-hating Jew'. This man didn't hate Jews so much as he hated Judaism. He hated in the way the intellectual hates the void. There has not been, on film I think, such a comtemplative story on the meaning of faith and the conflicts of the nothingness to be found at the end of the search for God as 'The Believer' presents.

What I learned was that a serious Jew must accept that nothingness, which is something I didn't expect to find. The implications of a sky devoid of God is perfectly logical: a maniacal adherence to man made law down to the detail of knocking the phone off the hook with your elbow after the candles are lit. This is the Jew of 'The Believer' and it is a Jew spelled out more clearly than we could ever see.

This film explores the irony of Jew-hatred, that it feeds on nothing so much as itself. It is finally the illogic and inconsistency of its rootlessness of Jew hatred that destroys its feeding on nothing. Judaism itself feeds on nothing, but it is reconciled to that fact. The haters lose, the Jews win because the haters alway find the need to justify their ever changing excuses in cloaks of legitimacy. The Jew, ever illegitimate, has his own reasons cast in the finger of God. He repeats it, it sustains him.

We have this to learn from the Jews. Consistency is its own reward. A tradition wll-kept and well-respected needs only itself spidering to every act in life, and when the void is revealed, those following the plan will be rewarded with the confidence of therr intimacy with their tradition. The Jews also teach us that freedom from tradition and continuous rebellion is the price to be paid for orthodoxy, and none can be so dangerous to orthodoxy as the individual who finds himself liberated from it by choice.

Posted by mbowen at September 17, 2003 11:37 AM

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Hey! I saw The Believer the same time you did on the Sundance Channel, and I very nearly wrote a blog post about it. I think I'll need to watch the film a few more times before much of it will really sink in. I've never seen such a portrayal of a virulent anti-Semite, though. Far more thought-provoking, and less cliche, than American History X. Not only did it refrain from clubbing you over the head with the message - it's not entirely clear what the message was.

Posted by: BTD Steve at September 18, 2003 09:43 PM