James Schamus‘s Indignation (Summit/Roadside, 7.29) is a respectable, adult-friendly, nicely refined period drama (i.e., early ’50s) about values, academia, obstinacy, surprisingly good sex, Jews (in particular a tough Jewish mom) and — this is key — brutally cruel fates. The ending alienated me to no end, and I can’t explain why unless I discuss (or at least allude to) the last 15 minutes. So that’s what I’m going to do.
If you’re planning on seeing Indignation this weekend (which I’m recommending by the way — any film that riles or angers is usually up to something interesting), you might want to do that before reading this.
If for no other reason Indignation is worth the price for a 16-minute interrogation scene that happens in Act Two. It’s between a Winesburg College freshman named Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman, once again projecting that deer-in-the-headlights quality that I can’t stand about him) and Hawes Caldwell, an overbearing college dean (Tracy Letts). Hawes senses that Messner is too fickle, too much unto himself, not social enough. And he wants to know why Messner doesn’t mix it up more. But Messner is who he is — stand-offish, bright, obstinate, something of a Jewish mama’s boy. And so he stiffens and lets Caldwell have it right back.
It’s “theatre”, this fine scene. Dialogue, dialogue, point, counter-point. It doesn’t exactly “go” anywhere but it grabs and holds.
But the story! And the mostly positive reviews (84% as we speak) which don’t even hint at how Indignation makes you feel at the end. (This is why some people hate critics. Because they too often evaluate a film without telling you what it feels like.) How did Indignation make me feel? Pissed. Taste of ashes. I wanted to take a poke at Schamus.
Indignation is mainly about a half-obsessive, half-uncertain relationship between Messner (who, like original “Indignation” author Phillip Roth, hails from Newark, New Jersey) and a beautiful blonde shiksa named Olivia Hutton (Sarah Gadon) who is gradually revealed to be a victim of chronic depression and at least one suicide attempt, but whose sexual openness and generosity is like manna from heaven for a pissy, slow-to-catch-on gloomhead like Messner.