Logan Lerman has come a long way since playing a descendant of a Greek god (Percy Jackson). In Indignation, Lerman plays Marcus, a working-class Jewish teenager/young adult from New Jersey. In order to avoid heading to fight the Korean War, Marcus is sent to a small Ohio college. He struggles to adjust to the new Midwestern culture and doesn’t take to the school’s expectations. Marcus’ outlook on college and life changes when he meets the troubled and lustful Olivia Hutton (Sarah Gadon).
Based on the Philip Roth novel, Indignation’s movie version feels like the book is playing out on-screen. Maybe that means that the story is meant to be a book only? The film takes place in 1951 and it certainly has the look and tone of that time period. The costumes and sets feel nostalgic. The appearance of the movie stands out more than the story.
Indignation attempts to tackle too many subjects that it can’t find a balance for. Marcus faces some identity crisis, but so does the movie. He struggles to adjust as a Jewish person in a place with a small Jewish community. He feels like he doesn’t want to be stereotyped as a Jewish person, and would rather blend in with the rest of the students. The movie attempts to discuss the question of what it was like to be Jewish in America in a post WWII world, but it doesn’t necessarily address it on a larger scale, aside from Marcus’ perspective. Sexual promiscuity is another topic the movie puts a focus on, but once again, zeroing in on one character (Hutton). You can’t necessarily address a subject matter if it’s only seen from one character’s perspective, so that’s where the movie doesn’t grasp the concept on a larger scale, and misses the mark.
The sole motive in Marcus heading out to college is to avoid the war. If the entire premise of the film is spawned from the ongoing war that surrounds the lives of these young men like Marcus, then why not address it further in the movie? The plot suggests you forget about the war, until the later stages of the film. The question of identity, sexuality and the impact of war are sidetracked by the conflicting teenage romance between Marcus and Olivia. It’s an intriguing and complex relationship, but it’s projected as the main thing at stake in the movie, while there is so much more that’s available to use.
This might easily be the best performance by Lerman to date. He was terrific in Fury, so that’s saying a lot. It’s a more serious role for an actor that’s quickly establishing himself as a serious young actor. Lerman’s skills are displayed in a lengthy scene with Tracy Letts where they jab and debate Marcus’ beliefs and actions. It is not only one of the more impressive scenes in the movie, but one of the better long takes you’ll see in a film this year. The verbal richness is on overdrive. I’m talking multiple pages of snarky, witty and brash dialogue, non-stop. Gadon is timelessly beautiful. She plays sultry and shy, like no other. I’m surprised that Gadon hasn’t been a more mainstream name yet. She has this innate on-screen maturity that can only be understood by seeing her work on camera. Just like Lerman, she’s certain to burst-out as a big time actress in the near future.
Ultimately, the film is about an imperfect forbidden romance between two young people from very different backgrounds. Indignation isn’t a movie for everyone. It’s a fairly serious film that touches on serious societal subjects that were prevalent in the 1950’s, and can still apply to today’s society. There are many slow moments in the film that made me wonder where is was all building up to. The ending is probably the most startling moment of the movie, and it only lasts a couple of minutes. The set-up to the eventual payoff wasn’t concise throughout the film. Although, the ending encapsulates the finality of the romance. I enjoyed the movie for what it was, but wouldn’t care to go back to watch it again. It’s one of those movies that just misses any award consideration. It was a bold move for Summit Entertainment and Roadside Attractions to release a film of this kind in late summer, instead of late fall, where it would generally slot into. Indignation didn’t quite live up to its title definition, as it didn’t anger or annoy me, more so it made me just shrug my shoulders and nod.