What romantic hasn’t thought that they should be at the Sorbonne, living in a garret? Who does not cry out in protest at straight jackets in Kansas ? The film “Indignation”calls for adjustments in the world.
The score, the screenplay, the acting and the set design all coalesce in making Philip Roth’s 1950’s novel “Indignation” shimmer on the big screen. What a glorious old-fashioned film that has us either wet-eyed or indignant that life has such suffering. Melodramatic ,yes, but exquisitely so.
Even the smallest of acts seem to cause real consequence. Being catatonic almost makes sense in this worldview. Not that there is not humor and nostalgic reminiscences in play, too. I defy any viewer not to care for Marcus Messler, our protagonist, ( Logan Lermen) who never really gets to come of age.
The score’s producer, Annette Kudrak, has joined two classical composers, Franz Liszt and Pyotr I. Tchaikovsky, to mirror the passion and the concentrated step-by-step work of a gifted college student. Logan Lermen’s face is hammered with the music. Our hearts feel doubly.
An only child of Jewish heritage Lermen is Marky, an aspiring lawyer whose sensitivity and wholesomeness of character will sere your heart. Yes, he can be intellectually brash and know-it-all, but his studious spirit, his love of family, and his intensity will be an archetype for what fate can serve.
In one of the most surprising scenes, Marcus’ mother visits campus. As Esther, Linda Emond amazes. She is not buying her son’s new love relationship or his response to her warning of becoming side-tracked. Marcus tries to tease his mom with ” she ( the mesmerizing Olivia) is a weak little thing”. “It is weakness that makes her powerful ” his mother wisely intones. She is not so wise when she sacrificially bargains with her son. She will not divorce his dad Max if Marcus stays away from his suicidal girl friend. Danny Burstein uses every muscle as the frantic, neurotic Max. Images of him slumped and crying in the meat freezer, hoary faced and trying to literally “chill” will have you shaking and forewarned at what is yet to come.
The set design is beautifully evocative. The conservative Newark home, the meat market, the funeral parlor and temple are all somber and dark. In contrast, the bright college campus is both intimate and communal, argyle sweaters, the one Jewish fraternity. Scenes like the mother’s apology and the twenty minute dean conference where beaded sweat and tears show Logan’s indignation bursting are all director and screenplay writer James Schmas’ gifts to us.
Sarah Gadon is haunting as Olivia Hutton. Gadon lights up the screen as well as Marcus when she says, ” I what to hear everything!” after she hands him a warm wash cloth and a glass of water. She is a mother’s worse nightmare under hospital sheets. She has smitten Marcus with her sexual experience and her vulnerability. We know there is a backstory to her psychological state.The last wallpapered set has us crying for her slumped figure,too.
Dean Caudwell ( Tracy Letts) is stereotypically the dean, insufferable because he is so sure he knows truth. His cliches are born from his experience and his traditional role. He is both easy to mock and easy to like, a role hard to balance. Pigeon-holing students may be his only crime. We can smirk and recognize his intentions while never wishing to be in his big shoes. The early fifties at the beginning of The Korean War is the era and the mores understandable.
Ironically, we are left thinking of the parents, Max and Esther, as the credits roll. Love hurts. Marcus had returned their love in touching patience and acknowledgement. You think of them and wonder how they will survive as much as you think of mistakes and consequences. Bring a handkerchief, Kleenex won’t do here unless you bring the whole box. And re-read Roth; he has lots to offer.