Indignation (2016): Quiet and Poignant Explosion

Indignation is an adaptation of Phillip Roth’s novel of the same name, a quaint snapshot of 1950s life. It tells story of Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman), a young man from a Jewish family, who leaves home to attend Winesburg, a Christian collage in Ohio. There, he tries to distance himself from the spiritual community, as despite being born into a Jewish household, he’s a self-proclaimed atheist. He faces confrontation from the school’s dean (Letts) over the role of religion in academic life, while developing a relationship with Olivia Hutton (Gordon), a student he finds himself drawn to.


Although I’ve always liked history, it was Lerman who spiked my interest in this film, as I really like him as an actor, always portrays likeable and engaging characters. If you’ve seen The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012), then you’ll know about his acting chops. But his role in Indignation is much more complex and the film is an exercise in intelligence. It gives us a series of thought-provoking discussions and debates, and it also explores the idea of inevitability.

I really admire the style of this film and the director’s dedication to focusing on fine details, rather than high-stakes drama. The film contains lots of lengthy scenes, where characters execute large amounts of dialogue, debating and arguing about their frustrations. So, ‘Indignation’ is appropriately titled. 

The main drama comes from Marcus’ meetings with Dean Caldwell, who questions Marcus’ refusal to conform to the collage’s strict scholastic programme. This reflects wider debates in society, that were perhaps going on at the time. The film is set in the backdrop of the Korean war, where many men were being drafted.


The film does a great job of capturing the image of its period, but it can be difficult to relate to the setting. But more so, I found it challenging to identify with the religious nature of this film, as I don’t have a religious bone in my body. I’m sure many viewers will feel the same way, but the fact that Marcus doesn’t believe in God, allows contemporary audiences who aren’t religious, to have an easier time relating to the character.

The ultimate flaw of Indignation, is its pacing. The film plods a long, with an endless amount of conversations and long-takes, with no real consequence. Even the relationship between Marcus and Olivia doesn’t really go in a particularly exciting direction. Nevertheless, all the actors are great in their roles. You can actually see the amount of effort they place on enunciation, as they try to project that 1950s tone of voice. I can’t criticise the film’s overall narrative and style, as it’s brilliantly executed. And as the film draws to a close, everything ties together, revealing a last-minute twist, that really is quite devastating.


Overall: Indignation is a quietly powerful film, boasting a great cast who expertly tap into the mentality of the 1950s period. I was expecting a bit more from the film, because it ends up being one of those movies where nothing major actually happens. It’s not a film you’ll want to watch twice, because it kind of does the job the first time round, so there’s no real reason to re-visit it. 

I recommend Indignation to those who enjoy character-driven dramas and of course, those who like historical films. Oh, and to anyone who likes Logan Lerman, as he’s pretty much the only reason I watched it. All in all, Indignation won’t blow you away, but it’s a commendable film for its complete commitment to style and intellect.

Quoted: “I don’t care what it suggests, Dean Caldwell, I will not be condemned on the basis of no evidence.”

Director: James Schamus

Writers: James Schamus, Phillip Roth (Based on the novel by)

Stars: Logan Lerman, Sarah Gordon, Tracy Letts.

Distributor: Summit Entertainment

Run Time: 110 min



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