Hot Take: While Indignation was compelling, it was hard to not escape the thought that I just watched a movie about the overwhelming influence blowjobs and handjobs have on one’s life.
The formative college years of youth plays out on screen for young Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman) as he faces being away from home for the first time in Indignation. The trying times of the 50s, the suffocation of overbearing parents and the social awkwardness of a working class Jewish boy at a small, conservative college play out in this film. Yet, it’s hard not to focus on Sarah Gadon’s magnetic Olivia Hutton and her scene stealing moments as the object of Marcus’ obsession and a girl who, for lack of a better description, has problems.
Indignation is the seventh novel or short story of acclaimed novelist Phillip Roth to be adapted into movie form and will be joined by American Pastoral later this year. It’s important to mention Indignation was adapted from a novel as you’ll get that literary feel early on in the film. It also marks the directorial début of James Schmaus who has a healthy resume as a writer and even more robust list of producer credits.
Logan Lerman is the star of the film and is best known for his roles in The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief. The magnetic Gadon has an impressively lengthy but anonymous list of credits that spans 19 years in the industry. Most of her roles have been smaller and include both television and the big screen.
***WARNING: MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD***
The movie itself is peculiar as it follows young Marcus from Newark, New Jersey to a small school in Ohio where he’s on scholarship. Anything to get away from being drafted into the war work for Marcus and his family. His parents, especially his father, fret over his wellbeing constantly which upsets Marcus. Actually, everything seems to upset Marcus. Everything except Olivia Hutton. Once Marcus gets the courage up to finally ask Olivia out on a date, she ends it by giving Marcus a blow job which vexes Marcus completely as girls back home don’t do such a thing.
Initially, Marcus distances himself from Olivia which causes him more stress than relief. Eventually, things boil over with his dorm mates and Marcus finds himself with new living arrangements which also sends him to the Dean’s office. This is one of the most interesting scenes in the film as the two debate Marcus’ wellbeing and his inability to adjust to college life. If anything, Indignation is a series of interesting scenes tied together by a story that’s not quite as successful as a whole.
Marcus ends up in the hospital and his relationship with Olivia picks back up. He sees her frequently and her calming influence is noticeable. Although it might be all of the hand jobs she gives him while he’s recovering. I think I’m supposed to describe Marcus relationship with Olivia as a sexual awakening for Marcus. However, it’s blow jobs and hand jobs.
Once Marcus’ mother comes to check on him and meets Olivia. She sees Olivia as trouble and demands Marcus never see her again. He agrees to not see her but once his mother leaves, he seeks out Olivia once again. Early on, we learn Olivia has had mental issues in the past and suicidal tendencies. This leads to a second confrontation with the Dean who now accuses Marcus of many things including driving Ms. Hutton back into the mental hospital.
The story continues from there as it works toward the scene that opens the film, an old woman sitting and staring at patterned wallpaper. Eventually, it all comes together but promising only minor spoilers, there can’t be much discussion of how it ends.
The Roth material presents itself for a number of interesting vignettes. There are also a number of stops along the way where, intellectually, the viewer might check out. Essentially, I couldn’t help but think of how the central theme of the film was blow jobs and hand jobs and how much the main character’s actions were driven by them. It’s hard to minimize Marcus’ actions to being driving purely by sex but every other person in his life who doesn’t give Marcus exactly what he wants pushes him to anger and frustration while Olivia’s occasional outbursts and her selectively letting Marcus in, aren’t met with anywhere near the rage the rest of his counterparts experience. Maybe they should’ve just jerked him off.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- Sarah Gadon
It’s hard to believe Gadon hasn’t earned a bigger role in something that has hit. Her filmography is bit roles in smaller films and a few starring roles in movies that are a blip on the Hollywood radar. Here’s hoping the 29-year-old is more sought after following her performance in Indignation.
- Logan Lerman
Lerman’s previous work in The Perks of Being a Wallflower was one of my favorite performances of that year. Indignation is not as strong but some of the scenes stand out thanks to his strong performance.
- The Dean Scenes
Marcus’s battles with the Dean are memorable and worth the viewing even if you choose not to take in the rest of the film.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- The Sum of Its Parts Is Greater Than the Whole
Usually, it is the other way around but Indignation is better dissected than together. There are a number of memorable scenes worth watching yet it’s hard to give anything more than a soft recommendation for the movie in its entirety.
- The Hand Is Heavy
The series of scenes in the film don’t seem to mold the protagonist but rather drive home the point that this is who Marcus is. Sometimes people don’t change. However, as a movie, that sometimes makes for a less interesting movie. This makes the film feel more heavy handed than anything and lacks any real character development.