Holy Rollers is a story of sex, drugs, and Orthodox Judaism. In the late 1990s, a group of drug dealers used young Orthodox kids from Brooklyn as mules to carry ecstasy back from Amsterdam to New York City. On the surface, this fictionalized account of these real events seems so simple: the sinful preying on the innocent. The viewer is drawn in by the intrigue and deceit, yet is left thinking about religion and culture.
We are never told exactly which Orthodox community in Brooklyn Holy Rollers’ main character (and real life person) Sam Gold lives in, but I think that merely speaks to the fact that it could have been any of them. (Post-viewing research proves it to have been Williamsburg.) Sam is a prototypical, ideal Orthodox boy who is studying to be a rabbi, comes from a good family, and works in his father’s shop. Sam's only problem is that he dreams of something beyond his immediate surroundings, and sees money as the means to get him there. His material desire leads him to blindly follow his neighbor into the "easy money" job of bringing "medicine for rich people" back to the U.S. from Europe.
Playing with the inconsistencies of reality is what changes a good story into a great movie. Who would ever believe it was a Jew who instituted and ran such a scheme? Who used a shared faith to exploit young people? And who would think that so many lies could create a positive space from which to question one’s beliefs? I found myself sitting on the edge of my seat, praying that Sam and his compatriots wouldn’t get caught while simultaneously questioning prayer.
Watching Sam’s crisis of conscience made me see so much more than a bizarre news clip in an insular faction of American society. His is a life almost too close to my own, and, really, Sam’s story could be anyone’s coming of age: moving away from the world of your youth, finding who you truly are, and deciding if you want to stay in the place you’re from or choose another fate. Sometimes when we choose to leave, there is no space in our new predicament for who we used to be.