Back-to-back indie flicks by first-time directors, both about an eighteen-year-old young man trying to find his place in the world, and yet Indignation bears almost no resemblance to Closet Monster. Where Closet Monster features a quirky and original style, camera work, music and content, Indignation couldn’t be more traditional. Its old-fashioned cinematography, score and style match its period setting of 1951 Ohio. For me, this is not a bad thing. Indeed, while I also liked Closet Monster, I liked Indignation much more.
Written and directed by James Schamus, based on the novel by Philip Roth, Indignation gives us a year or so in the life of Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman), a deep thinker and a serious and courteous young man. Marcus grew up in Newark, the only child of a butcher and his wife, both devout Jews. But Marcus has given up on religion, calling himself an atheist. So he’s not impressed when the college he chooses to attend (Winesburg College in Ohio) requires regular chapel attendance and provides him with two Jewish roommates.
The roommates, in turn, are not impressed when Marcus goes on a date with the beautiful and mysterious Olivia Hutton (Sarah Gadon), leading to tensions that will eventually result in a very long visit to Dean Caudwell's (Tracy Letts) office, which may be my favourite scene of the year. Indignation has a number of marvellous scenes, each one featuring brilliant acting and dialogue (most of the film is dialogue) and wonderful close-up cinematography. These scenes make the film feel like it’s more about the pieces than the whole, which would be a major flaw in most films, but in this case I found it original and uniquely compelling.
Two of those terrific conversations are between Marcus and his mother (Linda Emond), who comes to visit Marcus in the hospital following an appendectomy. Those conversations will have far-reaching consequences, but I will say no more about the plot.
Some critics find Indignation too self-serious and too slow, but I felt that the film’s carefully-structured style perfectly mirrored the personality of the protagonist, adding to my engagement with the film. Janelle didn’t like the film as much as I did. Like some critics, she wasn’t sure about the point of the film. I won’t divulge my thoughts on that here, except to say that I can see how Indignation is not a film that will appeal to everyone. But it pushed all the right buttons for me. This quiet, melancholy, funny, intelligent and thought-provoking drama gets an easy **** and will almost certainly make my top ten of 2016. My mug is up!