REVIEW: Indignation

29 07 2016

IndignationSundance Film Festival

When it comes to films surrounding schooling periods, a certain set of general guiding principles undergirds nearly story. High school movies are about the competing impulse of individuation and socialization, finding oneself while also navigating the locker-lined corridors of the pecking order. College movies primarily center on free expression and discovery, like a trial run for adulthood with few of the responsibilities or consequences.

2016 has a pretty stellar roster of college movies between “Everybody Wants Some” and “Neighbors 2” – but a bit of a black sheep with James Schamus’ “Indignation.” The film, adapted from a novel of the same name by Philip Roth, follows university-bound protagonist Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman) as he puts his hand to the plow in his studies. He scorns social contact, even from like-minded individuals such as the school’s Jewish fraternity that comes to earnestly recruit him. Marcus comes to school a skeptic and a deep religious doubter, two positions in which he only entrenches himself further upon arrival.

Whether the position comes from Schamus or Roth, it matters not – “Indignation” indulges Marcus’ cynicism rather than interrogating it or demonstrating the philosophy’s value. Vindication comes cheaply as the puritanical hypocrisy of the school administration, chiefly Tracy Letts’ Dean Caudwell, tries to clamp down on his rebellious streak. Marcus begins to see the same values in his own family, whose middle-class emphasis on diligence and industriousness leads them to disapprove of his budding relationship with the haunted yet wealthy Olivia Hutton (Sarah Gadon).

The romance between these two wildly different students begins, ironically, with Olivia’s performing oral sex on Marcus while his vehicle is parked in a cemetery. His genitals receive more stimulation than his mind throughout the film. And, to be quite honest, they probably receive more stimulation than the audience as well. “Indignation” has nothing pushing it forward but the fervent stagnation of its protagonist. Though one long, refreshingly theatrical-style spar between Letts and Lerman helps to break the rhythm towards the middle, the film is primarily a sterile exercise in self-satisfaction. C+2stars

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