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28th November 2016

Review: Indignation

First time director, James Schamus, has a welcome case of beginners luck with the triumphant Indignation

Sexual promiscuity, room mate quarrels and psychological breakdowns. These are just a few of the themes present in the film which any university student can relate to. However, the immersive world created by Schamus is far from modern. Indignation premiered at Sundance film festival earlier on this year. It is the eighth novel by Philip Roth to be adapted into a film.
Winesburg university student Marcus Messner played by Logan Lerman (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) is the son of a kosher butcher. It is thanks to his intellectual capabilities that Messner avoids getting drafted into the army. With the Korean war raging in the background, a few years at university is inevitably the better option.
Despite his Jewish upbringing, Messner is an atheist and struggles to acclimate to the strong christian values of the university. He also finds trouble coexisting in a small dorm with eccentric room mates and cannot stand attending chapel every week.
Things begin to look up for him when he strikes an infatuation with the delectable Olivia Hutton (Sarah Gadon). She is the embodiment of a 1950s girl-next-door. With perfectly curled blond hair, sultry red lipstick and a flirtatious nature, its easy to see why she piques Marcus’ interest.
Gadon’s performance at first appears robotic and un-emotive, but as the the film goes on and more is revealed about Olivia, Gadon’s detached line delivery makes sense. Olivia has many secrets and one of them is revealed through a scar on her left wrist. The mark was left behind after she took a razor to herself.
Shamus deals with this very painful and triggering subject matter in a delicate way. The films tone, if at times slow paced, is very calm and spacious. The action peaks and troughs as the characters meander through life in a historically difficult time in America. We get the sense that Marcus’ back is constantly to the wall and Lerman’s portrayal of a highly intelligent awkward outsider is acted with tentative accuracy and believability.
Temporally, the film begins with the present day Olivia in a nursing home and we delve into her nostalgic thoughts of the past. There is a full circle resolution when we are met with this very same image for the ending. The cinematography and editing stitch together the shots in a soft hazy glow, in keeping with the nostalgic representation of Olivia’s memories.
The serious nature of the film may be off putting for some, but this particular time in American history was undoubtedly serious. I think the oppressive nature of the time was effectively and sensitively captured by Schamus.


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