One of award-winning writer Philip Roth’s novels is yet again the subject of adaptation for the big screen, this time being brought to life by movie veteran and executive James Schamus - the man responsible for films like Brokeback Mountain and Lost in Translation - not only in the director’s chair but as screenwriter and producer. Whilst not keeping to the novel’s main theme of the Korean War but adapting this as a coming of age love story, Schamus delivers an intelligently deep narrative which, although based in 1951, could so easily be related to by all races who are seen as outsiders in the modern the world by living their own lives through the frustrations and assumptions of a Jewish kid.
That Jewish kid is Marcus Messner, played by Logan Lerman with an eerily spooky resemblance of a young Roth. Marcus is the son of an obsessively protective butcher in New Jersey; he has huge potential ahead of him with a scholarship at Winesburg College. The setting is 1951 and two years into the Korean War which has recently taken the life of an old school friend. Avoiding the draft, Marcus is not only grateful for this opportunity but it’s also a respite from his fretting parents.
Once at college, Marcus is quick to shrug off all the assumptions made of Jewish People, with no interest in wanting to join a Jewish fraternity. His roommates consist of two Jewish lads who share his ideals until word gets around about the acts performed on Marcus by his girl which shows them in their true light. Even though Marcus is heavily focused on his studies he falls for the captivating Olivia played by Sarah Gadon, a young savvy yet fragile women who certainly makes Marcus work for her attention.
Schamus has cleverly focused the story’s heavy laden narrative on Marcus and his ‘Indignation’ - his desire to justify himself, especially in a frustratingly wonderful showdown with a dean played by a self-righteously aggravating Tracy Letts. The pair goes head to head in a battle of the wills in a game of word tennis which chews you up with frustration for Marcus which also places him in a hospital bed. However, brilliant Marcus may seem he is also quite selfishly dense and wholeheartedly naive not just sexually but to the world around him. Olivia has her own personal problems which never quite hit the surface, hints are made but the issue is never forced and Marcus never questions her mental fragility. Sign of the times, maybe, but also an intriguing sub story to slightly distract the audience.
With scene after carefully and beautifully crafted scene, which comprise of nothing much more than conversation after conversation, it can become quite wearisome if it were not for the brilliant and at times what seems like effortless performances of its cast. Lerman has that teenage intolerable attitude of knowing everything, but has that edge of likability. Gadon is charm personified which is mostly a front for her tragic and terrible upbringing. Indignation is an endurance of the mind, one of compassion and understanding for those around us and the reality that a happy ending should never be expected.