INDIGNATION, US, 2016. Starring Logan Lerman, Sarah Gadon, Tracy Letts, Linda Emond, Danny Burstein. Directed by James Schamus. 110 minutes. Rated M (Mature themes, violence, sex and coarse language)
Indignation is based on the novel by Philip Roth, best known for such novels and film versions of Portnoy’s Complaint, Goodbye Columbus and The Human Stain. Indignation is a lesser known novel – which would gain in readership because of this film version.
The film opens with an old people’s home and an elderly lady – with a revelation about who she is at the end of the film. There is a then a shift to career, the Korean War, soldiers in the basement, Americans and Koreans and the death of a soldier. Then there is a move to New York City, a Jewish funeral, grieving parents, and the introduction of the central character, Marcus, a fine performance from Logan Lerman.
As Marcus and his friends talk about the draft, it emerges that Marcus has a scholarship to a Christian University in Ohio, meanwhile working in his father’s kosher butcher shop, with some strong scenes indicating Marcus and his work, his father concerned about him, even wary about being his led astray – but Marcus has a strong relationship with his mother and also with his father, despite his tensions.
At college, Marcus shares a room with two young men, Jewish (part of a Jewish minority at the college where Marcus is canvassed by the fraternity leader to join the Jewish group but he refuses) with whom he eventually clashes and moves rooms. Marcus has a strong background as a student, debater, free thinker.
This comes to the fore when he is challenged by the Dean of the College about his behaviour and beliefs, his not coping with others by moving rooms, his objections against going to Christian Chapel which is obligatory, his ideas, with Marcus having mounting resentment against the interrogation, using debating styles, articulate and strong, praising Bertrand Russell whom the Dean condemns personally and morally. The intelligent dialogue and the two performances make this an outstanding intelligent sequence.
Marcus, who has very limited encounters with girls, is attracted by the blonde Olivia (Sarah Gadon) and goes on a date with her when she surprisingly initiates sexual activity which he finds very difficult to deal with, avoiding her, but her pursuing him, especially when he is hospitalised with appendicitis. Again, she makes sexual advances which are seen by the nurse.
There is another highly intelligent discussion sequence when Marcus’s mother visits him in hospital, sees Olivia’s scars from an attempted suicide, warns her son against her – and they make an agreement that he will as long as his mother does not divorce his father who is showing strong signs of mental disturbance.
The issue of Chapel becomes a major problem for Marcus which leads to his presence in Korea and a reinterpretation of the initial sequence of the war, with his reflections about life, choices, moments of death, and a very sobering ending.
This is a fine, strong, intelligent portrait of a young man, a piece of Americana of 1951, well written and directed by James Schamus, who has been a producer and writer for some time, and this is first film as director.
Roadshow Released August 18th
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.