Indignation – Review (Sundance Film Festival: London)

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Logan Lerman is outstanding in this movie adaptation of Philip Roth’s Indignation. It’s a performance worthy of awards recognition and proves the young actor to be up there with the very best currently plying their trade in Hollywood.

Marcus (Lerman) is a young Jewish boy growing up in New Jersey. His mother and father worry about their son joining the growing number of soldiers going off to fight in Korea and returning in coffins. An easy “out” appears to be the college route, with an Ohio college accepting the gifted student. However Marcus’ father feels like he losing control of his only child, and even when his son is away studying, he continues to maintain a smothering hand over proceedings.

College life seems to go down well with Marcus. Once he settles in, he meets the mysterious Olivia Hutton (Sarah Gadon) and falls instantly in love. The pair begin an intense romance, full of the usual perils of young love, but eventually opening up their deepest feelings and fears to one another. All the while, Marcus is coming to terms with his growing and well-reasoned thoughts on atheism. The college dean (Tracy Letts) calls the youngster in for a meeting that doesn’t end well when the student falls ill with appendicitis. More bad news comes when Marcus’ mother arrives to see her son and meets Olivia for the first time. Marcus is left with the choice of pleasing his family and leaving Olivia, or following his heart.

The writing throughout this movie is exquisite. The blistering scene involving Letts and Lerman is a wordy master-class of two smart characters debating around a seemingly innocuous series of collegiate subjects. The performances match the writing, with Lerman in particular showcasing why he is one of the best young actors around. Think of the long scenes Tarantino has employed in his most recent films, but add a serious dose of pizazz and pages of scintillating dialogue.

Think of the long scenes Tarantino has employed in his most recent films, but add a serious dose of pizazz and pages of scintillating dialogue.

The film opens with a sequence set during the war and is wrapped around a spoiler-filled bookend which we won’t go into here, but the effect is devastating.

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The teenage romance between Olivia and Marcus might seem like one you’ve seen a thousand times before, but there is heartbreaking depth to both characters. Olivia is broken, has suffered personal trauma and is slowly telling all to her lover. The ebbs and flows in their relationship ring true of any romance, and the choices they are forced to face will have a profound resonance on almost every viewer. The pressures both of them are under, both from their peers as well as their families, are instantly relatable.

James Schamus has a great understanding of the source material and of modern audiences.

James Schamus, writer and director of the film, has a great understanding of the source material and of modern audiences. The setting is used to keep the story as one the viewer can identify with, and Lerman maintains the everyman quality required throughout. Initially you think the drama will focus on Marcus and his father, a fractured relationship apparently heading for disaster. Both men are well-meaning, working together at first at the family butchers shop, but they are also drifting apart. The impossible situation that is presented late on comes back to these early moments.

Olivia is a superb first love character. Gadon does a great job of conveying a delicate yet fiercely intense young woman. The reason she is forced away by Marcus’ mother is heartbreaking. You can see, once again, good intentions leading to horrifyingly unfortunate decisions. Marcus laments about the choices and mistakes that lead us to where we end up. It has added weight given the profound nature of what we have just seen in the film.

Recently Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!! presented a view of American colleges that lacked any gravitas. It was a fun film that captured the specific moment in any students’ life before they start college. Indignation is a film that largely focuses on the same period in our lives but does so with such craft that is transcends those moments.

This is a universal story that will eventually leave you reeling if you let it in.

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About Cassam Looch

Cassam Looch has been watching films ever since his first trip to the cinema to catch Care Bears: The Movie and writing about them after a traumatic incident involving Moonwalker. If he's not hassling celebrities on the red carpet, he'll usually be found in the darkened screening rooms of Soho.

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