It is 1951 and the Korean War looms high in the minds of America. Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman) is the son of a kosher butcher in Newark and has earned a scholarship to Winesburg College in Ohio, thus avoiding the dreaded draft. But Marcus has a hard time adapting to his new home, until he meets Olivia (Sarah Gadon) in “Indignation.”
Robin's Review: B+
Director/scripter James Schamus adapts Philip Roth’s 2008 novel and puts us back into the early 1950’s, with Marcus, as he moves into the men’s dorm at the college. He meets his new roommates, Bert (Ben Rosenfield) and Ron (Philip Ettinger), but his reticence to socialize with others makes him an island unto himself. Then, he sees Olivia Hutton and is immediately smitten with the pretty girl. Marcus’s lack of socializing – he had a fight with his roomies and demanded a new dorm room – comes to the attention of Dean Caudwell (Tracy Letts). The dean calls him in for an interview but, instead, it turns into an interrogation over his faith (atheist, not Jewish) and lack of social skills. These extended scenes, with Marcus verbally sparring with Caudwell about religion and philosophy, quoting Bertrand Russell in particular, is the best written part of the film. Tracy Letts gives a terrific performance as the dean, appearing to be a hard nose but, really, is concerned about the sullen, moody Marcus. “Indignation” does a fine job in showing the mores of the time. Marcus’s insecurities couple with his youthful ideals, make him a very complex and confused character. This is especially true when he gets up the courage to ask Olivia on a date and he gets a lot more than he expected. That relationship, or lack of – that was their one and only date – is an important part of the film. As important is Marcus’s relationship with his dad, Max (Danny Burstein), and mom, Esther (Linda Emond). Dad, when Marcus prepares to leave home, shows his fears and anxieties over his son’s well being. This causes a rift between Max and Esther as his phobias and over-protectiveness of Marcus damages, perhaps irreparably, their marriage. Logan Lerman is steadily building a career that is varied and challenging. His Marcus is the focus, here, and shows he can carry a film as lead actor. Of course, it helps to have a first-rate supporting cast with you and Sarah Gadon is terrific as the girl next door/femme fatale who liberates and confuses Marcus. She has her own back story that is nearly as well-defined as Marcus’s. I have only read a couple of Philip Roth novels, Goodbye, Columbus and Portnoy’s Complaint, both decades ago. “Indignation” truly feels like a Roth story as it deals with the intensity, angst and intellectual insecurities and certainties of youth. James Schamus captures this and delivers it with a production that puts you, the viewer, into Marcus’s life and time.