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.
SPOILERS: At the end we’re told that Hutton, who is presented as polite, sensitive, relatively sane and considerate throughout the film, suffered some kind of mental setback or trauma because Messner dropped her, and has ended up alone and withered in an assisted living facility. Messner jettisoned the relationship because his joyless, steely-eyed mom (Linda Emon) ordered it because she noticed that Olivia has slash marks on one of her wrists. And then Messner gets bounced from Winesburg for a totally chickenshit reason, which was paying a fellow student $2 to be his proxy at a mandatory church sermon. And so he winds up going to Korea and getting bayoneted in the gut. Naturally.
Is life really that harsh and unfair? In Indignation, it sure is. So that’s what we’re left with as we shuffle into the lobby and out to the parking lot. A bayonet in the stomach and a withered old woman in a rest home.
I’ve always hated Lerman for overdoing that naive, brainy young Jewish kid with that scared-chipmunk look in his eyes. I don’t like naive guys. Grow up and get a clue. Then I learned to re-hate him for pushing Gadon away after she gives him a front-seat blowjob (are you INSANE?) and then I double-hated him for giving in to his horrible heartless mother. So fuck him…I hope he enjoyed the pain in his stomach as he bled to death in Korea. And fuck mom for her emotional brutality. And fuck Roth for condemning his characters to such hellish fates.
And definitely fuck the critics for having given this film a glorious pass when it played during Sundance. Yes, it’s a highly respectable Jewish-downhead cousin of Sidney Lumet‘s Daniel and Paul Mazursky’s Enemies: A Love Story, and made by a very bright fellow (hello, James!) but c’mon.
A beautiful young blonde who does nothing but wear yellow sweaters and saddle shoes and exude brains, sanity and stability while giving the occasional sexual favor…this poor girl has to suffer. She ends up alone, white-haired and withered, in some kind of glum facility. Life can be fiendishly cruel, yes, and the worst things can happen for the most random or inconsequential of reasons, but who in their right mind is going to want to pay $30 plus parking and popcorn to be reminded of this?
What planet was Roth living on when he decided this was an interesting story? What thick and gelatinous membrane was Schamus living in when he decided this would be even a modestly commercial film? And not a single critic said the obvious, which is that this movie leaves you feeling fucking awful.
The ending of The Godfather, Part II wan’t an upper but it felt justified. Michael Corleone has grown into a monster, and at the end he’s left all alone with his recollection of the idealistic youth he used to be. The ending of Indignation does not feel justified. These two kids didn’t even half-deserve their fates. Their fates are so dark it’s fucking ridiculous.
Never send a beautiful blonde with a glowing and generous nature into sadness and solitude at the end of her life. Do that and you lose the support of Jeffrey Wells. How’s that for unfairness, James?