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Indignation – Movie Review

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Indignation – Movie Review

Rating: B- (Okay)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Elevation Pictures

Indignation feels like the product of two films strung into one. First, it’s the story of a Jewish university student in the 1950’s, trying to go through his school year with his religion affecting it. Then it suddenly becomes a love story between a young atheist and a mentally unstable woman. James Schamus, a longtime executive and screenwriter making his feature directing debut, takes clear inspiration from the classic films of Indignation’s era and succeeds when utilising their style. It’s also at its best when highlighting the culture of that decade, specifically regarding the Korean War. However, it loses the plot halfway through and the second portion is sadly not as captivating.

James Schamus chooses a deliberate pace in directing Indignation, one that sets a certain mood and atmosphere for the first half. He does admirably in making a film that evokes something one might catch on a Sunday afternoon on TCM. The circumstances that might greet a Jewish student at an American university in the time period are explored, including his want to be included among the general campus while his faith hovers over him. This comes to a turn in the centerpiece of the film, when he meets with the dean. This single scene feels like watching a one-act play as two people with strong opinions go head to head. Logan Lerman gives a strong performance as Marcus, but it’s Tracy Letts that steals the scene from him. The back and forth between the two is gripping and unpredictable.

This scene does an expert job of showing the prejudices of the time, yet it impressively does not turn the dean into a sneering villain. He listens to what Marcus has to say and tries to reason with him in a calm manner and that adds to the effectiveness of this confrontation. Following this battle of wits and religious differences is when the film takes a sudden detour. A love story that was brewing in the first half becomes the major focal point as Marcus recovers from an operation. The script seeks to explore the mental anguish of his on-again-off-again girlfriend and how this affects their relationship. However, it doesn’t quite explore this to the fullest potential and the pacing slows to a crawl.

The themes of being a Jewish student in the 1950’s takes a back seat to this storyline. Indignation also throws in a subplot of Marcus’s father becoming mentally unbalanced, but not enough appropriate time is devoted to this aspect of the story. Schamus tries very hard to juggle these multiple plot elements, when he should have focused on just a couple. Throughout all of this is the backdrop of the Korean War, frequently at the backs of the minds of young people in that decade. That fear of being sent to this police action was prevalent and Schamus handles the few sequences in Korea with the proper intensity. However, like most parts of Indignation, it’s somewhat underdeveloped.

Indignation feels a bit like a missed opportunity in exploring the post-war attitude towards the Jewish community in a university setting. The backdrop of the Korean War constantly looming could have also been more strongly emphasized. However, James Schamus does show a bit of promise as a filmmaker, even if the film tries to bite off more than it can chew. He captures a certain classic feel with his directing approach and he certainly gets some strong performances from his actors. There’s a better film trying to dig out from the other subplots as they seek to find proper screen time and the pacing certainly affects one’s enjoyment.


Stefan Ellison