Review: ‘Believer’ is cultural competency

“I don’t feel a need to denounce Mormonism; I do feel a need as a Mormon to speak out about things that are hurting people.”
Dan Reynolds

LGBT ally Dan Reynolds’ Believer, a Sundance Festival phenom, does not demonize his borne faith, but instead questions and stitches the singer’s inner faith. While the film opens with angelic shots of the LDS-centric capital city, backdropped by turmoiled voiceovers on the LGBT youth suicide epidemic in the celestial kingdom, Reynolds and director Don Argott overall paint, with measured sensibility, an abstract of the thousands-door knocker’s Mormon upbringing and an evolving culture, while in the undercurrent of a purple-hued sea.

Reynolds, the seventh son of nine children, has been struggling for years about his religious beliefs, and Believer seems like an adulation in large part to his wife, Aja Volkman, who decided early in their courtship to end it, as she felt like an “alien” to his faith. She was “okay” with him being LDS, but she had strong reservations about his own, and his church’s stance, on LGBT people.

It is not widely recognizable, but better yet superbly felt in the film’s intimate moments of their relationship as wife and husband with two young children. (My expressed wonderment that still to this day I praise for its uninhibited purpose, is a hotel scene in which Aja is expressing breast milk while on the phone and Dan strolls in, in a sort of frenzy to pack her luggage — and what husband would ever put his life, or if she’s super protective, his manhood, in jeopardy like that?).

Believer is an inspiring, hopeful documentary. However, I have been on Reynolds’ heels since he was given the 2017 Trevor Project’s Hero Award, and feel the one-hour-and-forty-one-minute documentary could encompass a deeper understanding of his journey — of which you undoubtedly get a good taste. In a segment of the film, the parents of Stockton Powers, a teenage victim of suicide, praises Reynolds and strongly encourages “more voices.”

For the naysayers who have reservations about Reynolds’ sincerity and his ultimate goal will at the very least think twice. Reynolds’ self-conflict is a quiet but powerful requiem (much like a misunderstood, underappreciated teen) and should turn you into a culturally-conscience believer.

Believer has been picked up by HBO and will premiere in June 2018.

“I don’t know much. But I’m all heart; the education is yet to come.”
— Dan Reynolds, on the inception and future of the LoveLoud Festival

PHOTO: Dan with missionary companion and LoveLoud co-organizer Tyler Glenn of Neon Trees at Sundance Film Festival

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