Wednesday, June 14, 2017
Based on the novel by Philip Roth, Indignation is the story of a Jewish student who begins a relationship with a mentally ill student at a small Ohio college as he also spars with its dean over religion and individuality in the life of academics. Written for the screen and directed by James Schamus, the film is a period drama of sorts set in the 1950s as it revolves around morality as a young man copes with his faith and his own sexual awakening. Starring Logan Lerman, Sarah Gadon, Linda Edmond, Ben Rosenfield, Danny Burstein, Pico Alexander, and Tracy Letts. Indignation is a riveting and compelling film from James Schamus.
Set in 1951 at a college in Ohio, the film follows a Jewish student who arrives as a freshman where he meets a beautiful student as they would have a strange sexual moment that would later get the two into some trouble involving gossip as he gets the attention of the school’s dean. The film is a complex story in which a young man with strong views on the world as he prefers to keep things to himself as he deals with the expectations he’s laid upon from his parents as well as the faculty until a date with this young woman would change things. James Schamus’ screenplay opens and ends with this old woman at a hospital staring at the wall as it then goes into a scene during the Korean War where a North Korean soldier fights with an American. It would then cut into a funeral service that the film’s protagonist Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman) attends for someone who was killed at the war as he copes with his father (Danny Burstein) who has been acting erratic lately as well as the need to socialize with other Jewish students despite the fact that he’s an Atheist.
When he meets Olivia Hutton (Sarah Gadon) at a history class and asks her out, he is unaware of what kind of person she is as she would give him a blow job inside a car as their relationship would be awkward until Marcus wonders about Olivia’s frequent absences at school. Especially as he learns about the fact that she’s had a history of mental illness and an undeserved reputation for being loose which gets him upset as he would lash out at his roommates and eventually move into his own room at another dorm. This would get the attention of the school’s dean Hawes D. Caudwell (Tracy Letts) who would ask a lot of questions that would annoy Marcus and his own beliefs including having to attend chapel forty times during his entire time at the school as requirement to graduate. It is a key moment in the story as it shows the expectations laid upon Marcus, Olivia, and other students in what they had to do in order to move forward as a society yet Marcus and Olivia have a hard time sticking to those ideals which has the former be outspoken and the latter coming apart.
Schamus’ direction is quite straightforward yet does contain some very entrancing compositions in the way he looks at college life in the 1950s where it’s a world that is quite square in its surroundings. Shot on location around various parts of New York City, the film does play into this look that is quite idyllic for the look of the college as well as Schamus’ precise framing into every image including the scenes at the chapel where a speaker tries to instill Christian ideals into the students including non-Christians. The usage of wide and medium shots play into this institution that may seem like idyllic but also quite stifling which is definitely what Schamus is doing while he also uses close-ups for the characters including Marcus who narrates the film via voiceover. There are a few scenes outside of the college as it relates to the working-class Jewish community that Marcus live in as it has a similar presentation visually but it’s a grimy world that includes the butcher shop that Marcus’ father runs.
The sexual content in the film is actually very tame since Schamus doesn’t show anything at all but rather Marcus’ own reaction to getting a blowjob from Olivia as well as her visits at the hospital during the second half of the film. Schamus’ approach to the drama is very simple yet he would also maintain some ambiguity as it relates to Olivia where he only display a few things about her with the exception of a flashback sequence relating to her mental history. The third act isn’t just about Marcus and Olivia’s relationship which is considered taboo given Marcus’ own idealism and Olivia’s reputation as well as the fact that they both come from different social circles. It also play into this growing decline of the ideas and demands of conformity at the college as it would play into Marcus’ growing disdain for everything Dean Caudwell stands for. Overall, Schamus creates a provocative yet haunting film about a young man’s relationship with a troubled young woman at a college in the early 1950s.
Cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography with its emphasis on low-key lighting for some of the interiors at night as it play into this idyllic of 1950s society with the only scene of brightness is in the hospital scenes. Editor Andrew Marcus does excellent work with the editing as it is largely straightforward in terms of the cutting as it strays from anything stylized. Production designer Inbal Weinberg, with set decorator Philippa Culpepper and art director Derek Wang, does amazing work with the look of the college dorms and classrooms as well as Marcus’ hospital room and the butcher shop that his father owns.
Costume designer Amy Roth does fantastic work with the costumes from the look of what students wore during that time including the dresses that Olivia wore. Sound editor Lewis Goldstein is terrific from the way a record sounds inside Marcus’ dorm to some of the low-key yet raucous moments at the campus as well as the tense scenes inside the chapel. The film’s music by Jay Wadley is superb for its orchestral-based score that is also low-key in its string arrangements as it help play into the somber tones of the film while the soundtrack features music of the times including the folk and pop music of the times.
The casting by Avy Kaufman is marvelous as it feature some notable small roles from Sue Dahlman as this old woman at the film’s beginning and ending, Noah Robbins as a Jewish fraternity brother who would help Marcus deal with appearing at chapel, Philip Ettinger as a roommate of Marcus early in the film who would lend Marcus his car for his date with Olivia, Ben Rosenfield as another of Marcus’ roommate earlier in the film whose fondness for loud records and Shakespeare would annoy Marcus, and Pico Alexander as Jewish fraternity president who would try to invite Marcus to the fraternity as he’s a mutual friend of Marcus’ family. Danny Burstein is superb as Marcus’ father Max who starts to behave erratically as he believes something bad is going to happen where he would eventually lash out at those around him. Linda Emond is excellent as Marcus’ mother Esther as a woman who has been very supportive of Marcus as she would visit him at the hospital while getting to meet Olivia which would worry her.
Tracy Letts is brilliant as Dean Caudwell as the college dean who is eager to instill his own rule and ideals into the college that he runs as he finds himself challenged by Marcus where Letts’ performance is quite unusual in its restraint as he comes off more as a man who seems concerned and intrigued but it’s just a cover for someone who is really quite dark. Sarah Gadon is amazing as Olivia Hutton as a young woman from an upper-class family that is sexually-experienced yet is also quite off as someone who is also very fragile as she doesn’t want to reveal much about herself to Marcus. Finally, there’s Logan Lerman in a remarkable performance as Marcus Messner as this young Jewish freshman that is an Atheist who isn’t eager to fit in with the rest of the campus in order to focus on his studies only to find himself challenged by Dean Caudwell and find someone he is intrigued by in Olivia as it’s a very complex performance from Lerman who has this defiance but also weariness to someone trying to find his place in the world.
Indignation is an incredible film from James Schamus that features phenomenal performances from Logan Lerman, Sarah Gadon, and Tracy Letts. Along with its gorgeous visuals and compelling themes on individualism during the early 1950s, it’s a film that explores a young man dealing with the expectations of society where he finds solace in a troubled young woman. In the end, Indignation is a sensational film from James Schamus.
© thevoid99 2017