Everything looks like a dream in this coming-of-age drama that takes viewers back to 1951. Rating: 3 out of 4 stars
A coming-of-age tale wrapped in memory, James Schamus’ “Indignation” brings back a time when $18/week was decent pay for a part-time job, and when students dressed up for class and walked around campus with their heads buried in books rather than electronic devices.
Marcus (Logan Lerman), the bright son of a New Jersey butcher, is dazzled when he arrives at Winesburg College in Ohio in 1951. Though the times are troubled — the Korean War rages in the background, and attitudes toward both sexuality and mental illness, as depicted in the film, were less than enlightened — everything looks like a dream. The campus, in the words of the Philip Roth novel on which the film is based, “could have been the backdrop for one of those Technicolor college movie musicals where all the students go around singing and dancing instead of studying.” The sun-dappled light is dusty and lovely; the settings and costumes a nostalgic mix of dark wood, autumn and tweeds.
It’s a visual style that reflects the gazing-back poignancy of the 2008 book: Roth was himself a Jewish student from Jersey who attended a small liberal-arts college in the early ’50s; you see, in Marcus and his fate, a road not taken. The character is extremely articulate, perhaps almost too writerly so — but that’s part of the film’s very literary appeal as we watch Marcus struggle to understand his fellow students, particularly the beguiling, troubled Olivia (Sarah Gadon). With impeccable performances — particularly an electric, extended scene between Marcus and the college dean (Tracy Letts), and Gadon, whose wistful character has a face full of secrets — “Indignation” is an elegant debut for longtime producer Schamus; a visit to the past, with both sunshine and darkness.
Movie Review ★★★
‘Indignation,’ with Logan Lerman, Sarah Gadon, Tracy Letts, Linda Emond, Danny Burstein, Ben Rosenfield. Written and directed by James Schamus, based on the novel by Philip Roth. 110 minutes. Rated R for sexual content and some language. Several theaters.