Based on the novel by Philip Roth, “Indignation” follows the life of a working-class Jewish boy from New Jersey, Marcus (Logan Lerman), as he attends a small, conservative college in Ohio. While there, he encounters sexual repression, cultural taboos, and has to defend his own values and ideals, all amid the backdrop of the Korean War.
First-time feature film director, James Schamus, who has written, produced, and been the head of a film studio before finally taking his seat in the director’s chair, is able to adapt Roth’s book in a way that not only speaks to the time period in which it was set, but also speaks to many issues we still face today. Youth, authority figures, and feelings of seclusion play a large role in the film and inform us of Marcus’ mindset and growth as a character.
There are so many layered and deep topics discussed throughout the film. It’s a coming-of-age story, but it’s one that can apply to anyone of any age. In reality, the issues of religion, love, reputation, questions of character, and rationale are all issues still very much dissected and experienced, thought about, and lived through. At its very core, “Indignation” is a thought-provoking film that deserves to be studied on its own. Roth’s book must not have been easy to adapt, and yet Schamus does so with tender care and respect to the source material while at the same time making it very much his own.
Logan Lerman delivers such a fantastic performance. His portrayal of Marcus is filled with frustration, hopefulness, and sadness. You can very well see the progression from beginning to end and how his experiences change how he thinks about certain things and the values he clings to even more tightly. Sarah Gadon as Olivia equally matches him in skill. Their characters are opposites in a way that works. She is far more damaged than he is, but at the same time she is the one who allows him to experience new things and learn how to love.
One of the film’s particular highlights is the scene between Lerman and Tracy Letts as Dean Caudwell. The scene goes on for at least fifteen minutes and it’s staged so well. It starts off harmless enough, with Caudwell wanting to know why Marcus wants to move out of his dorm and away from his friends. Then the interaction between the two of them escalates into a debate about character, religious beliefs, morality, and so much more. A scene which goes on for so long and is only full of dialogue runs the risk of possibly getting boring or long-winded, but Schamus sets everything up so perfectly and the actors perform the hell out of the scene that it’s already topped the list of best scenes of the year for me. Simply well executed and filled with great arguments.
“Indignation” can be a bit on the slow side, pacing itself but occasionally dragging. There are moments before the finale which could have been expanded upon, but it ultimately works on the whole. Marcus’ struggle of being pigeon-holed is striking and timeless, even though the film is set in 1951. James Schamus handles the writing and directing of the story in a sophisticated and realistic manner, which is only improved upon by the strong acting.
James Schamus handles the writing and directing of the story in a sophisticated and realistic manner, which is only improved upon by the strong acting.