Indignation (2016) ☆ ☆ ☆

This movie surprised me in a way I did not expect: it qualifies as a Korean War film.  That fact will not impress many people, I suppose, but it is the first one I’ve found in a decade.  Others are in the pipeline, I’ve heard, but not many films deal with the Korean War — those that have are, for the most part, in my 2003 book Korean War Filmography.  That book lists ninety-one movies that depict events from the war, or have something important to say about it, but I’ve found about a dozen more since then.  This is the latest.

Indignation is James Schamus’ adaptation of Philip Roth’s book about a young man (Logan Lerman) who goes to college so as not to have to fight in the war, but fate has other plans for him.  It is an odd movie that never establishes any sort of rhythm, but I believe that to be a deliberate choice.  One crucial scene, for instance, the one between student Marcus Messner (Lerman) and the dean of his college (Tracy Letts) lasts more than fifteen minutes!  I thought that was the best scene in the film; Letts in particular is terrific.

Much of the story dotes on Messner’s sexual repression, which is shattered by a troubled college girl (Sarah Gadon), whom he desires but doesn’t know how to deal with.  Messner is at once primly old fashioned in sexual matters and the etiquette that surrounds them, and quite progressive in his political and social beliefs; his problem is how to reconcile his intellectual self with the things that happen to him.    The result is a talky film, filled with ornate dialogue and profound thoughts, that is fascinating because the studious boy never really catches up to his own life.

Schamus does not try to shortcut his story so young audiences will find favor; he allows the story to develop as it will.  I appreciate that, and hope that this movie finds an audiences that can appreciate its rewards.  It does, at times, move like a play, and the delicate dialogue certainly is reminiscent of the stage.  It isn’t as satisfying as perhaps it ought to be, because certain scenes are awkward or they don’t go where one expects, and yet by the end it adds up to a memorable experience.  ☆ ☆ ☆.  26 August 2016.

Leave a Reply