By Bob Bloom
Marcus Messner is a very intense young man.
The son of middle-class Jewish parents from Newark, N.J., Marcus (Logan Lerman) is given a scholarship to a small, conservative Ohio college, becoming the first in his family to attend a university.
The movie, based on a novella by Philip Roth, is set in 1951 during the height of the Korean War and Cold War paranoia in the United States.
Marcus is a brilliant student, but he seems to have a chip on his shoulder. He lacks humor and faces every situation in a very serious manner.
It’s not that Marcus lacks empathy; it is more that he does not know how to display it.
Marcus’ world grows more confused after he becomes infatuated with Olivia Hutton (Sarah Gadon), a beautiful classmate.
On their first date, she performs fellatio on Marcus, creating an emotional and mental firestorm for the young man. Marcus admits he enjoyed the experience, but cannot understand why Olivia did it.
Marcus is rather socially and sexually unawares, as evidenced when he blurts out to his roommates about the event, and displays confusion over the circumstances.
This creates tensions not only between Marcus and one of his roommates, but a rift with Olivia, who cannot understand why Marcus is now keeping his distance from her.
“Indignation” is a very literate and compelling drama. Its major flaw is that writer-director James Shamus tries to cover too much ground.
Shamus touches upon the social and sexual mores as well as the political and religious climate of the era.
At times, the movie is the cinematic equivalent of throwing spaghetti on the wall to see what sticks.
Shamus composes some wonderful set pieces, especially an early confrontation between Marcus and the head of the college, Dean Hawes Caudwell (Tracy Letts).
The dean and Marcus meet because Caudwell is concerned after Marcus asks for a room transfer, something that is rarely done at the school.
Marcus views Caudwell’s questioning as an interrogation and becomes more and more defensive and indignant about what he perceives as an invasion of his privacy.
As the film proceeds, it becomes evident that as brilliant as Marcus is, he is not emotionally or socially ready for life away from home.
This is evident when a family crisis forces him to choose between his parents’ welfare and his feelings about Olivia.
“Indignation” features strong performances from Lerman and Gadon.
Olivia is a bright, but fragile young woman, and Gadon’s portrayal showcases Olivia’s intelligence along with her emotional instability.
Linda Edmond as Marcus’ mother provides a stunning look at a parent’s fierceness, as she fights to protect her child from what she sees as a potentially disastrous future.
“Indignation” is a bit flawed because it is slow at times and tries to cram. Instead, it should focus on the more interesting Marcus-Olivia dynamic.
Yet, it still is a movie that you come away from with an appreciation for the one-on-one give-and-take relationship and dialogue that is sorely missing from the majority of today’s movies that emphasize flash over substance.
Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and Rottentomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com). He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom.
3 stars out of 4
(R), sexual content, language, mature themes, violence