A young Jewish atheist from Newark, New Jersey named Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman) attends college in 1951 Ohio, where he clashes with both the school’s established social order and its Dean Caudwell (Tracy Letts) as well as his overbearing parents’ hopes for his future. At the same time, he falls for an attractive, complicated classmate named Olivia (Sarah Gadon).
Again with a film based on a novel. This film is based on a novel called “Indignation” by Philip Roth. Of course I didn’t read it so I can’t speak to its accuracy. The main draw for me here was the trailer, which looked good, and the cast featuring the like of Logan Lerman, Sarah Gadon, and Tracy Letts. What was notable here was that I am a fan of Tracy Letts and seeing Lerman in a starring role in a serious film is interesting. Sorry, the Percy Jackson series are not serious films.
The film takes place during a tumultuous time during the Korean war where young men are being drafted. This greatly affected a certain Jewish community within Newark, New Jersey where a young, Jewish atheist named Marcus Messner (Lerman) lives with his parents. They are worried because they think they will lose their only son to the draft but luckily for them, Marcus chooses to go to college which protects him from the draft. This still doesn’t stop them from worrying because he is leaving them just as his father is beginning to lose his mind, much to the chagrin of his mother.
Once Marcus gets to college, he has a hard time adjusting to his new life. He just wants to study and work but everyone else doesn’t understand this and choose to have unrealistic expectations of him which puts him at odds with everyone. Another issue for him was that since Marcus is of Jewish descent, everyone assumes that he is Jewish but he is quite atheist and vehemently disbelieves in religion which put him at odds with his college and Dean Caudwell (Letts). His biggest problem with the college was the mandatory attendance of chapel in order to graduate which conflicted with his beliefs.
Things quickly changed for him once he meets an attractive, young classmate named Olivia (Gadon). The two grow very close as she seems to be the only one who can break through the walls that he has built up and sees him for who he really is. Marcus has a very intense, serious personality which makes it hard for him to make friends and/or carry serious relationships but there was something different about her. Olivia later surprises Marcus by taking their relationship to a level which leaves him confused and uncomfortable. This confusion caused a rift within their relationship which grew further once he learned about Olivia’s troubled past. He did not know how to deal with this information so he did what he always does and hid from the problem with his studies instead of dealing with it head on.
Marcus was compelling and fun to watch as he is a very likeable and relatable character. While his serious and intense personality can be a little off-putting to some but it was nice to see him go through his own inner-struggles as he is yet to experience a lot of what life has to offer. He was a surprisingly complex character where we got to watch him doubt and question himself and learn things for the first time. His debates with Dean Caudwell on religion and life in general were great to watch and the best parts of the film. Because Marcus is such a likeable and relatable character, he doesn’t come off as arrogant and you actually root for him here as you can understand where he was coming from. Their interactions as well as the rest of the dialogue were great because of the smart script. This continued in the scenes with Marcus and Olivia. These were mostly just two people talking but it was easy to hang onto every word. They were fun to watch together as they had great chemistry.
They did have great chemistry but there wasn’t much to Olivia. The film failed to develop her character as much as Marcus. She did have flaws and had a troubled past but the film could have gone much further with her. This would have made her motives a little easier to understand. Marcus is a complex, complicated character who has lived a seemingly sheltered life but a little backstory would have helped in understanding him more. This is a beautiful film with great cinematography, full of beautiful shots. The cheerful. mostly piano score was also great at setting the mood. The performances were great with Lerman and Letts being the standouts with Lerman great at depicting the character’s vulnerability and complexity and Letts for primarily going head to head with Lerman’s Marcus.
Overall, this is a great, beautiful, and smart film, featuring great performances by Lerman and Letts.