Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Indignation [2016]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (L)  ChicagoTribune (3 1/2 Stars)  RogerEbert.com (4 Stars)  AVClub (B)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review
RogerEbert.com (G. Kenny) review
AVClub (E. Zuckerman) review  

Indignation [2016] (screenplay and directed by James Schamus based on the novel [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Phillip Roth [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]) is an appropriately R-rated movie that along with Walter Sellas' still recent cinematic adaptation (2012) of Jack Kerouac's celebrated "beat generation" novel On the Road (1951-57) could help Viewers, both young (in their 20s) and of my 50-something age, better understand how we got, culturally, from the post-WW II Era to the Present Day.   For this film presents an American college experience, that while certainly believable would seem almost "of another world" to most Viewers today:

The story, set in 1951 (a year into the Korean War), centers on Marcus Messner (played by Logan Lerman) a butcher's son, Jewish, from Newark, NJ, and the _first of his family_ to be able to go (on scholarship) to College.   Now there's _so much_ in that sentence that seems distant from the present day.  Yet in talking to one of our older (though still movie going) friars, he could relate.  That is because he too grew-up in a _then_ mixed (Irish, Italian and Jewish) _blue-collar_ neighborhood (in his case on Chicago's West Side near our Basilica of Our Lady of Sorrows) that with the exception of faint echoes of said distant past -- the (Italian) Shrine to Our Lady of Pompei as well as at least the legacy of the hustle and bustle of the once legendary Maxwell Street -- is as "lost to time" as the (heavily Jewish) Newark neighborhood recalled in Roth's novel / this film. 

Then a good part of Marcus' "indignation" in the current film / story centered on the requirement (still at the time) of attending a once every 2 weeks "Chapel Service" at the (Ohio) Liberal Arts College where he was attending where one or another of the College's professors would give an already quite watered-down non/interdenominational lecture on "civics" / "ethics."  Marcus, Jewish by ethnicity, atheist by conviction, found these still _mandatory_ lectures both offensive and a waste of time.  Other Jewish students at the school (there was already a Jewish fraternity at the school at the time) found creative ways to ditch said lectures while still being counted at attending them.  But Marcus was uncomfortable with these methods of going around said rule.  Instead, he objected to -- and clashed with the College's Dean (played very well in the film by Tracy Letts) over -- the rule itself.

Finally, Marcus got confused (and on multiple levels) by a similarly misfitting student named Olivia Hutton (played by Sarah Gadon) from a very WASPy if divorcing family from relatively nearby Cleveland, OH, who on their first date surprised him by, well ..., "blowing" him.  In 1951, that would surprise most people ;-).  Marcus comes to explain for himself (and perhaps even correctly) her apparent impetuosity (it also becomes revealed by a scar on her wrist that she had previously tried committing suicide...) on her parents' divorcing.  But the _larger question_ was perhaps why would her parents have divorced in the first place.  And indeed the question of divorce comes home to Marcus' family as well, as Marcus' mom (played very well by Linda Emond) seriously contemplates at one point (and for the first time) leaving Marcus' dad (played again superbly by Danny Burstein) for a tragic (if fascinating discussion-producing) mix of both outward anxiety (_not_ being "quite enough of a man" in/to the outside world) and inward / at-home abusiveness (trying "to compensate" for this at home). 

And over the whole story loomed the Korean Conflict and the larger Cold War.  Would Marcus' precious "indignation" over being _forced_ to go to "chapel services" that he _didn't want to go to_ become so great that it would cast him out of the school and thus into the Service and off to Korea?  On the flip side, should mere (youthful?) stubbornness over "not wanting to go to chapel" be just reason to send someone arguably to his / her death? 

The story arguably becomes its own metaphor:  Everything in this film seemed to be slow moving and even so trivial ("Okay, you have to go to 'chapel services' ... once every two weeks ... so what?") and yet as Olivia herself intimates to Marcus at one point, everything's also _about to explode_ (she tells him that she has "8000 emotions running through her head every second").

About to explode indeed ... excellent / thought-provoking film!

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