Adapting Philip Roth’s novel of the same name, Indignation is a hard film to describe. It’s a captivating drama with two romantics at its heart, led by stunning performances from Logan Lerman and Sarah Gadon, set in Newark and Ohio against the backdrop of the Korean War.
Indignation revolves around Marcus Messner (Lerman), a young man transitioning from the close-knit Jewish community he’s grown up in to the independence of college life far from home. A self-professed atheist and dedicated to his studies, Marcus has no interest in socialising. He avoids making any connections with his fellow students, until one day he sees Olivia Hutton (Gadon) in the library and his world is forever altered.
Lerman delivers a phenomenal performance as the young Marcus. He fills the character with an incredible quiet intensity, and completely succeeds in pulling off Marcus’ first-class intellect without coming across as too stuffy, how many more one-dimensional smart characters are portrayed. He would be fully deserving of a Best Actor nomination in the coming awards season, based on what we’ve seen so far this year. The verbal repartee between Marcus and the college dean (Tracy Letts) is so much fun to watch. Marcus’ atheist convictions wholly jar with the dean and the college’s Christian ethos, leading to a couple of excellent sparring bouts between the two.
Gadon, too, is magnificent as Olivia, totally compelling in her performance as a young woman struggling to deal with past and present mental problems. Indignation is set in a time when we’re used to seeing female characters as subordinate to their male counterparts, and it’s a welcome change to see both Gadon and Linda Emond, Lerman’s on-screen mother, play characters full of agency.
The film boasts fantastic direction and a brilliant script from James Schamus, who makes his debut as a director having written and produced dozens of movies over the years. The shot of Marcus leaving the dean’s office in their last scene together is emblematic of that direction. The shot is seriously impressive and totally blew me away, as did the whole film.
Equally impressive is an utterly gorgeous score from Jay Wadley. Like Lerman’s performance, it is certainly a strong contender for Best Original Score among this year’s films so far, alongside the superb work done by the costume, hair and makeup, and set design departments for bringing 1950s America to life so convincingly.
There’s no question that Indignation is this year’s Brooklyn, albeit with a slightly darker tinge to some of the drama, featuring as it does the Korean War on the periphery throughout. With hugely affecting performances and phenomenal chemistry between Logan Lerman and Sarah Gadon, it’s essential viewing, and I can’t recommend it enough. A love story for the ages.