- Actors: Sarah Gadon, Logan Lerman, Ben Rosenfield, Noah Robbins, Tracy Letts
- Director: James Schamus
- Format: NTSC, Widescreen
- Language: English
- Region: Region A/1
- Number of discs: 1
- Rated: R
- Studio: Lionsgate
- Release Date: November 8, 2016
- Run Time: 111 minutes
Indignation has recognizable faces, but no movie stars. It is a period film, one without action or a typical romance to drive the narrative. There is humor as well as moments of melancholy, but the film doesn’t fit perfectly into either the comedy or the drama category. Even with the fairly traditional structure of a coming-of-age narrative, Indignation is something of an enigma in today’s film market, bold in its simplicity and reliance on good storytelling alone. Not every film needs a guaranteed audience brought by special effects and movie stars. My only hope is that enough people watched this movie to encourage further production of mature narratives as an alternative to the constant stream of comic book movies.
Indignation is the feature-film directorial debut of James Schamus, a producer and writer who has often collaborated with director Ang Lee. Based on the novel by Philip Roth, Indignation follows a working-class Jewish teenager from New Jersey as he enters the world of higher education at a small Ohio college in 1951. Set during the Korean War, Marcus (Logan Lerman) is relying on his education to keep him from being drafted, though he soon finds his intelligence and independent thinking to be a hindrance rather than an asset. Required to attend chapel services and adhere to certain moral guidelines, regardless of his personal beliefs, Marcus makes the mistake of vocalizing his concerns with the school dean (Tracy Letts).
Marcus clearly does not fit into the expectations of a student, though he embodies the attributes that should be celebrated in higher education. His forward thinking is often lazily attached to a belief in atheism, which is seen as modern in comparison to the religious beliefs of those around him, and this often feels pandering to the supposed superiority of modern intellect. Far more convincing is the depiction of sexuality in the 1950s, especially when tied to ideas of modern feminism.
All of this is examined through an unconventional (for the times) relationship between Marcus and a classmate named Olivia (Sarah Gadon). On their first date, Olivia shocks Marcus with her bold sexuality, exposing herself as just as much of an outsider in Ohio as he is. Olivia remains a mystery to Marcus, as well as the audience, which may also be part of the reason for his fascination with the troubled young girl. Unfortunately for both of them, the times that they live in are far too rigid to accommodate their discovery of life and each other. And unfortunately for Marcus, he is too rigid to accept that the way things are is the way that they are supposed to be, even to detriment of his college status.
Indignation does not have a complex narrative, but it is far from a simple film. For one, it is extremely difficult to categorize. While there is definitely some humor in the examination of cultural incongruity, much of the film has a somber tone that never makes light of situations, regardless of how ridiculous they may seem by today’s standards. At its weakest, the film may seem to be transparently serving a liberal agenda, but the strength of the writing, acting and directing consistently elevate the material above an oversimplified criticism of the era and its morality.
The Blu-ray release for Indignation comes with a Digital HD copy of the film, as well as a couple special features. The first of these extras is a generic promotional featurette, including bland praise from the cast and crew along with footage from the film. The second featurette, “Perceptions: Bringing Philip Roth to the Screen,” is a bit more in-depth, featuring an interview with Schamus about the adaptation process.
Entertainment Value: 7.5/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 8.5/10
Historical Significance: 6/10
Special Features: 4/10