Urban Cinefile  
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Thursday March 21, 2019 


SYNOPSIS: In 1951, as Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman), a brilliant working class Jewish boy from Newark, New Jersey, travels on scholarship to a small, conservative college in Ohio, thus exempting him from being drafted into the Korean War. But once there, Marcus's growing infatuation with his beautiful classmate Olivia Hutton (Sarah Gadon), and his clashes with the college's imposing Dean, Hawes Caudwell (Tracy Letts), put his and his family's best laid plans to the ultimate test.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
James Schamus' successful adaptation and remarkable directing debut of Indignation is a cinematic joy for grown ups who enjoy the challenge of complex, intelligent drama based on characters. Philip Roth, whose 1972 novel Portnoy's Complaint was something of celebrated talking point, again traverses a young man's adventures in love and sex in unusual circumstances. Schamus manages to adapt the novel into cinematic language and has executed perfect casting, from the three outstanding leads to all the supports.

Playing the central character of Marcus Messner, Logan Lerman, a wonderful young actor I first noticed in My One and Only (2009), delivers the kind of intricate, finely honed performance his character demands and audiences cherish. The brilliant kid finds himself in a world of torment from all sides, even his over protective and increasingly unbalanced father Max (Danny Burstein). But it's on the campus of Winesburg College (on a scholarship) that he is thrown into turmoil by a combination of his room mates and a beautiful, apparently loving girl, Olivia Hutton (Sarah Gadon), as well as the overbearing Dean Caudwell (Tracy Letts).
In the film's central and most powerful scene, Dean Caudwell and Marcus, face off in a verbal conflict that covers several important themes in superbly written (and performed) dialogue. To Marcus, Dean Caudwell represents all that's wrong with the rules and traditions that oppress his freedoms, including his freedom from religion. His indignation seeds his downfall.

Young Americans are being drafted for the Korean War, many dying there; Marcus is safe as a scholarship winning college student. But he is not safe from Olivia, with whom he is smitten. On their first date, Olivia, uninvited, provides a sexual service Marcus had never expected or experienced. And it confounds him.

His father's increasingly irritating if well meaning tirades and his mother's (Linda Emond, superb) dramatic disapproval of Olivia further heighten his internal dissatisfactions and confusions, propelling him to a fate we could not anticipate.

Such rich material takes a while to process, and it's a pleasure to find a film that engages our intellect and our emotions in equal measure with such fine manipulation of then tools of cinema, from the amazing score to the excellent editing and design. Highly recommended.

Review by Louise Keller:
Logic derailed by emotion forms a complex intersection in this dark-themed tale in which a young freshman embarking on a promising law career becomes sidelined. Based on Philip Roth's novel, screenwriter James Schamus makes his directing debut in this intelligent and stimulating film that questions the relationship between personal choices, fate and mortality. The ideas are as fresh as the 50s mentality is claustrophobic, with Logan Lerman outstanding as the perfect son and student with solid principles and opinions. There are interesting juxtapositions as religion, authoritarianism and sexual promiscuity are tossed into college life, while the protagonist quickly finds his intellectual centre. The result is an engrossing coming of age film with a dark underbelly, propelled by logical argument and emotional turmoil.

The film begins enigmatically with two short scenes. The first involves an elderly woman in a retirement home staring at the red and white roses on the wallpaper; the second shows a young soldier in battle during the Korean War. The relevance of both is not known until the film's end.

It is 1951 and the Jewish upbringing of Logan's protagonist Marcus is apparent as we meet him in his hometown of Newark, New Jersey. The controlling nature of his hard-working Jewish parents is immediately apparent - his butcher father (Danny Burstein), whom Marcus helps in his spare time, and his clinging wife (Linda Emond). College in Ohio may be signposted Salvation, but a promiscuous blonde (Sarah Gadon, lovely), whom he meets in his American history class and an opinionated Dean with strident religious views (Tracy Letts) are roadblocks.

Highlights include a potent lengthy exchange between Marcus and the Dean, in which the student does not hold back in telling his headmaster strong views on religion and philosophy. The film's title is a result of this scene. Also worthy of note, is the unforgettable exchange between Marcus and his mother, when emotions form the crux of the bargain for which she pleads.

Beautiful production design engulfs us into the era that is filled with conservatism and earthy shades, while a lively music score with a focus on strings highlights the confounding nature of the protagonist's journey. This is a stimulating film that plays with our minds beginning with the choices we make, the roads we travel and how these might impact on our final destination.

Email this article

Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

(US, 2016)

CAST: Logan Lerman, Sarah Gadon, Tracy Letts, Ben Rosenfeld, Linda Edmond, Joanne Barron, Danny Burstein, Bryan Burton

PRODUCER: Anthony Bregman, James Schamus, Rodrigo Teixeira

DIRECTOR: James Schamus

SCRIPT: James Schamus (novel by Philip Roth)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Christopher Blauvelt

EDITOR: Andrew Marcus

MUSIC: Jay Wadley


RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes



Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2019