Philip Roth’s books have always been undeniably difficult to adapt. Even Ewan McGregor found it tricky with last year’s American Pastoral. Flying underneath the radar was James Schamus’s Indignation – a much more thoughtful, cinematic exploration of Roth’s work.
The film revolves around Marcus Messner, a Jewish boy from New Jersey who pursues a college education in Ohio, exempting him from the Korean War. Whilst there, Marcus goes through various formative experiences, including his unusual roommates, his riled debates with the Catholic dean, and his sexual awakening with Olivia.
Famed for his roles in Young Adult romps such as Percy Jackson & The Lightning Thief and The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Logan Lerman tackles the ‘serious man’ role with fantastic energy. Marcus’s hot-headed attitude has him using religion to question the control-seeking authorities around him, despite his atheist proclamations. Lerman’s performance during these debates is rigorous and tempered, providing enough conviction to make the character of Marcus sympathetic even when he is at his most argumentative.
Adding delicacy to the proceedings is A Royal Night Out’s Sarah Gadon. As the self-aware and emotionally compelled Olivia, Gadon is somewhat of an opposite to Lerman – although the young leads have an undeniable chemistry together that fills their hurried meetings with believable awkwardness.
Director James Schamus captures the sentiments of the post-World War II and Korean War era, which pepper Marcus’s life with expectations, riling him up all the more. The knowledge that young men are being sent to fight and coming back in flag-covered coffins adds a sense of dread to the proceedings.
With complex dialogue and a story that gently unfurls, Indignation is a considered exploration of the titular emotion. It is an astute portrayal of inner conflict and 1950s world views, as well as a character study. Ultimately, however, it is a soft and tender letter to first love – that person who opens you up, either sexually or emotionally, and whom you still remember. Although Marcus is embroiled in heated debates with those around him, at the core of the drama is his infatuation with Olivia. The film is almost poetic in the manner in which indignation conducts itself – but also haunting, as love is shrouded by death and loneliness.