Title: Indignation


Starring: Logan Lerman, Sarah Gadon, Tracy Letts, Linda Emond and Danny Burstein

Comprehending another person’s inner psyche, notably their emotions, motivations and intellect, can be an meaningful journey for anyone who wishes to understand the true inspiration behind distinctly unique actions. That intriguing study into how people, especially young adults, struggle to find their true identities in a society they find morally conflicting is grippingly showcased in the new drama, ‘Indignation.’

The coming-of-age film, which will be released in select theaters by its co-distributors, Roadside Attractions and Summit Entertainment, on Friday, is based on Philip Roth’s 2008 novel of the the same name. It was adapted for the screen by filmmaker James Schamus, who also made his feature film directorial debut, and produced, the drama. ‘Indignation’ had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival this past January, before it also screened during the 66th Berlin International Film Festival.

Set in 1951 during the Korean War, ‘Indignation’ follows Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman), a high school senior who’s preparing to leave his family and community in Newark, New Jersey to attend Winesburg College in Ohio. Unlike some of his relatives and classmates who served their country during the war, Marcus is able to avoid the dangers of the draft by furthering his education on a scholarship from his temple. Despite the fact that he’ll seemingly be safe at his new school, his father, Max (Danny Burstein), and mother, Esther (Linda Emond), are still worried about his fate.

Once he arrives at Winesburg College, Marcus takes his role as student quite seriously. He tries to be friendly with his two new roommates, the artistically enthusiastic Betram Flusser (Ben Rosenfield) and serious Ron Foxman (Philip Ettinger), but doesn’t have any interest in becoming close friends with them. With his academic pursuits and library job filling his days, Marcus has time for a social life or other obligations, such as the college’s mandatory weekly Wednesday chapel, which he, as a precocious freethinker, resents.

But Marcus’ best-laid plans become rearranged when he encounters one of his classmates, Olivia Hutton (Sarah Gadon), one night in the library. So he decides to ask her out to dinner, during which time she’s charmed by his academic seriousness and social naiveté. But after a later confrontation over their intentions for each other, Olivia decides she no longer wants to see Marcus.

As his obsession with Olivia then deepens, Marcus goes into an emotional tailspin. He begins avoiding news from home about his father’s growing irrational behavior, and becomes indignant at the college’s expectations of him. After a fight with his roommates, Marcus moves into a dilapidated single room, a change that necessitates a meeting with Dean Caudwell (Tracy Letts), Winesburg’s Dean of Men. Confronted with an authority figure who embodies the rules which Marcus has grown to hate, he angrily argues with Dean Caudwell. After laying out a case for the ways in which the school, his fellow students and the dean have unfairly imposed social and religious obligations on him. Marcus reframes his vision of the future. He also tries to regain his academic direction and determination, but is ultimately subsumed by decisions he seems to have no control over.

Schamus powerfully captured a specific moment in Roth’s life as a young man who struggled to discover his personal identity in society, a process which he profoundly chronicled in his acclaimed 2008 novel. While the book isn’t completely autobiographical, the author stunningly created a relatable sense of empathy within Marcus as he attempted to remain true to his beliefs, without completely succumbing to society’s expectations.

The filmmaker effortlessly translated to the screen Roth’s enthralling interpretation of a young man’s discontent with authority, including his parents and school officials, and the duties required of him in order to successfully transition into a functional member of society. The drama’s meaningful portrayal of Marcus as he struggles to adapt to his new surroundings at Winesburg College is the epitome of a teenager who’s so intent on staying true to his ideals that he refuses to listen to reason at times. The tense feelings that increasingly grow between the protagonist and the adults in his life, most notably his parents and Dean Caudwell, after he arrives in Ohio, is the perfect example of why young adults need guidance in their lives, no matter how resentful it makes them feel.

The compelling portrayal of Marcus truly believing that he knows the best life path for himself, even though he leaves home for the first time when he attends Winesburg College, is entrancingly emphasized by Lerman’s gripping performance. The SAG Award-nominated actor, who also made his executive producing debut on ‘Indignation,’ naturally infused the protagonist with a stunning feeling of contention the longer he stayed at Winesburg College.

The initially sincere student who was so eager to learn and explore the world outside of his hometown also harrowigly lost more of his innocence the longer he remained in school, which Lerman effortlessly showcased through his character’s increasingly hostile relationships. Despite his character’s increasing troubles with the people who don’t support his resentments with society, the actor also intriguingly presented Marcus as being intelligent enough to finally learn from his mistakes, after he has time to ponder what truly happened.

Schamus made a stunning debut in his feature film directorial debut, as he powerfully explored the ever-changing emotions and mindset of a young adult, who’s experiencing the world on his own for the first time, in the gripping screen adaptation of ‘Indignation.’ Much like with Roth’s powerful novel, the filmmaker enthrallingly created a relatable sense of empathy within Marcus as he attempted to remain true to his beliefs, and completely succumbing to society’s expectations. Mixed with Lerman’s dedication to showcasing his character’s struggle to regain control over his academic direction and relationships, despite him continuing to make drastic decisions that leave harrowing consequences, the drama effortlessly highlights its source material’s important life lessons.

Technical: B

Acting: A-

Story: A-

Overall: B+

Written by: Karen Benardello

Indignation Movie Review
Sarah Gadon and Logan Lerman in ‘Indignation.’
Photo credit: Alison Cohen Rosa

By Karen Benardello

As a graduate of LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic, Karen Benardello serves as ShockYa's Senior Movies & Television Editor. Her duties include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, and scribing movie, television and music reviews and news articles. As a New York City-area based journalist, she's a member of the guilds, New York Film Critics Online and the Women Film Critics Circle.

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