Philip Roth’s 2008 novel Indignation gets its first big screen adaptation courtesy of director James Schamus and stars Logan Lerman and Sarah Gadon. This intellectually-charged drama boasts a refined period style and provides an absorbing glance into 1950s campus life and morals.
Marcus Messner (Lerman) comes from a traditional Jewish household with overprotective parents, making a living working in his family butcher shop. He opts to leave this behind to study in Ohio where he meets the damaged Olivia Hutton (Gadon) and begins to embark on a relationship with her whilst tackling the constraints of academic tradition.
Schamus adapts Roth’s novel for the screen and finds intrigue in capturing the coming-of-age quality within it. When Marcus’s friends are sent to fight in the Korean War, the young scholar is excluded from the draft due to his studies. Schamus proceeds to build on this as an intimate character study exploring Marcus’s transition into near adulthood – exploring his first sexual experiences and his broadening academic horizons upon arriving at Winesburg College. Within this backdrop Schamus explores what constitutes moral indignation in the context of 1950s USA, delving into: mental illness (Olivia is haunted by a suicide attempt), indirect religious segregation, atheism, academic formality (students forced to attend church services) and sexual “deviancy”. These issues are channelled through Marcus’s broadening horizons as he navigates throughout college life.
Lerman provides a complex and well-ranged performance tackling the overly confident, wordy role with a youthful gravitas. The quality of Lerman’s performance is heightened when paired with the stoic might of Tracy Letts as the college Dean. The battle of words sees Marcus questioned regarding his isolation and indirect failure to conform to college expectations. Lerman is remarkably convincing capturing a mix of Marcus’s over-confidence and intellect, but often a facetious moral superiority. This is paired with the young scholar’s sexual naivety makes him a fascinating protagonist as he navigates through emerging adult life. Sarah Gadon is equally well-cast as the intelligent and delicate Olivia – a woman as progressive as she is broken. Gadon’s character provides an interesting glimpse into 1950s attitudes to mental health and the generally unsympathetic system in place.
Visually Indignation has the look and feel of a classic period piece. Delicately shot by cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt, Indignation captures oak-filled campus interiors, 1950s street exteriors with a convincing realism aided by stellar costume design and a classic score from Amy Roth and Jay Wadley respectively. Despite the absorbing nature and well-crafted style of Indignation and its narrative, Schamus has crafted a non-conventional tale with a wordiness that may prevent it from finding an audience outside the festival context.
Indignation is a refined, well-crafted piece that tackles the coming-of-age narrative with a welcome originality thanks to its fifties campus setting and an outstanding lead performance from Logan Lerman.
[rating=4] | Andrew McArthur
Drama | USA, 2016 | 15|Sundance London 2016 |4th June 2016 | Dir.James Schamus | Sarah Gadon, Logan Lerman, Linda Emond, Ben Rosenfield, Tracy Letts, Linda Emond