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August 9, 2016 6:06 am

‘Indignation’ Has Fight, But Needs More Fury (REVIEW)

avatar by Alan Zeitlin

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Sarah Gadon and Logan Lerman in "Indignation."  Photo: Alison Cohen Rosa

Sarah Gadon and Logan Lerman in “Indignation.”
Photo: Alison Cohen Rosa

Two of the most important things for a young man are to gain independence and find love. In “Indignation,” a film based on the book by Philip Roth, Marcus Messner leaves Newark and his job in his father’s kosher butcher shop for a college in Ohio, where he promptly meets a beautiful blonde gentile student — Olivia Hutton — ironically played by Jewish-Canadian actress Sarah Gadon.

He takes her out for snails, and has his first sexual experience with her in a car.

One of his roommates, a theatrical fellow named Bertram Flusser, won’t stop singing or rehearsing for a play, and Messner can’t get any sleep. Flusser is played wonderfully by a creepy Ben Rosenfield, who played Nucky Thompson’s nephew on “Boardwalk Empire.”

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Messner works hard to get good grades and shuns an offer to join the Jewish fraternity. The three central conflicts Messner has are with his father, Dean Caudwell and Olivia, whom he senses is bad for him (yet he wants her in spite, or perhaps because, of this).

Danny Burstein, who currently stars on Broadway as Tevye, where he milks cows, here cuts them up as a butcher with a temper, who constantly clashes with his son. Burstein is a supremely talented actor but we don’t see enough of this conflict.

When Dean Caudwell (Tracy Letts) questions Messner about not putting down on his form that he is Jewish, Messner says he is an atheist and doesn’t see the point of having to go to chapel, as required by the school for graduation. Messner argues his points like a lawyer and will not back down.

As Messner, Logan Lerman delivers a magnificent performance, alternating between mature and cathartic speeches when dealing with the dean, and showing the presence of a confused and vulnerable youth when speaking to his mother (who says she might divorce his father), and Olivia, who he realizes has significant mental issues.

Written for the screen and directed by James Schamus, the film is largely a faithful adaptation of the book, and nails the context of 1951. But by leaving out a major scene in which the men raid the women’s dorm, we lose a scene where the school’s loss of innocence is juxtaposed with the loss of innocence of boys going off to war and dying in Korea. Also missing in a final scene is when Messner curses out the dean, although an earlier one is included.

Gadon is pitch-perfect as a seemingly wonderful beauty who starts to unravel and is hiding more than can be imagined. Linda Edmon, who plays Messner’s mother, gives the most credible performance. She tells her son to pick any woman, even a gentile, but not one who has done what this young woman has done. She warns him that “weak people are not harmless. Their weakness is their strength.”

Letts, who played Andrew Lockhart on “Homeland” and has won a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award, is decent in the role of an authoritative dean, but he doesn’t have enough fire and there’s not enough of a burn between him and Lerman as the characters have in the book.

“Indignation” is worth seeing for its powerful performances. Yet this is a case of the book’s being better than the movie. The film is a little too tidy, and the book is the right amount of messy. The insertion of a  few omitted scenes would have gone a long way to give the viewer a sense of the transformational time and exactly what was at stake.

The story is an introspective look at how people fight so hard to get out of the traps others have laid for them, that they do not realize they have fallen into one of their own.

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  • As stated in Alan’s concluding comment “The story is an introspective look at how people fight so hard to get out of the traps others have laid for them, that they do not realize they have fallen into one of their own.” Such a true statement indeed. At this time of every year I recall a Man who fell into that very trap. His name made Him a “Prisoner” of His fame.His death is memorialized every August 15-16th at Memphis Tennessee USA. His name “Elvis Aaron Presley.” What most of His fans never knew was that Elvis was the son of a Jewish Mother, Gladys Love Smith Presley, thus making Elvis Jewish by Birth. Although He and His mother embraced Christianity as their faith of choice his mother Gladys kept her Jewish Heritage secret until the day she died due to fear and prejudice in the south. Elvis Honored his mother’s Jewish heritage by having The Star of David engraved on Her Grave Marker. Sadly when he died they exhumed her and buried her and her son at Graceland’s Meditation Gardens. Her Star of David was never again Honored as one can see when visiting Graceland. A book was published about 2 years ago entitled “The Final Curtain a Love Story Untold.” The author remains anonomous for personal reasons. The story tells of how Elvis in his last year of life stepped out of charactor, removing his christian cross and replacing it with La Chaim, and The Star of David worn just below La Chaim on his chest. He wore these symbols the entire last year of his life throughout the 1977 Final Curtain Concert Series, honorig his mother. Today, when fans pass his grave marker at Graceland, they see his name “misspelled” as Elvis Aaron Presley.” All wonder why Aaron and not “Aron” which was how he spelt it all his life. The answer in the book is Elvis birth name given to him by his Beloved Mother Gladys was “Elvis Aaron Presley” 2 “A”s. Due to antisemitism in the south Vernon had the name changed to Aron to protect the son and mother. In the end Elvis Seals His undying Love for Gladys by having engraved on his grave marker “Elvis Aaron Presley”in effect Reclaiming the gift his mother gave him at birth The name of Israel’s 1st High Priest “Aaron.” Perhaps in honor of what this man had to endure from antisemitism someone will make this book known to the public. I read it 3 times, bring 2 boxes of Kleenex tissue.

  • As stated in Alan’s concluding comment “The story is an introspective look at how people fight so hard to get out of the traps others have laid for them, that they do not realize they have fallen into one of their own.” Such a true statement indeed. At this time of every year I recall a Man who fell into that very trap. His name made Him a “Prisoner” of His fame.His death is memorialized every August 15-16th at Memphis Tennessee USA. His name as you may have already guessed was “Elvis Aaron Presley.” What most of His fans never knew was that Elvis was the son of a Jewish Mother, Gladys Love Smith Presley, thus making Elvis Jewish by Birth. Although He and His mother embraced Christianity as their faith of choice his mother Gladys kept her Jewish Heritage secret until the day she died due to fear and prejudice in the south. Elvis Honored his mother’s Jewish heritage by having The Star of David engraved on Her Grave Marker. Sadly when he died they exhumed her and buried her and her son at Graceland’s Meditation Gardens. Her Star of David was never again Honored as one can see when visiting Graceland. A book was published about 2 years ago entitled “The Final Curtain a Love Story Untold.” The author remains anonomous for personal reasons. The story tells of how Elvis in his last year of life stepped out of charactor, removing his christian cross and replacing it with La Chaim, and The Star of David worn just below La Chaim on his chest. He wore these symbols the entire last year of his life throughout the 1977 Final Curtain Concert Series, honorig his mother. Tnot happy. Today, when fans pass his grave marker at Graceland, they see his name “misspelled” as Elvis Aaron Presley. All wonder why Aaron and not “Aron” which was how he spelt it all his life. Why the change? The answer in the book is Elvis birth name given to him by his Beloved Mother Gladys was “Elvis Aaron Presley” 2 “A”s. Due to antisemitism in the south with war brewing in Europe and Hitler preparing to invade Europe Vernon had the name changed to Aron to protect the son and mother. In the end Elvis Seals His undying Love for Gladys by having engraved on his grave marker “Elvis Aaron Presley”in effect Reclaiming the gift his mother gave him at birth The name of Israel’s 1st High Priest “Aaron.” I hope in honor of “Elvis Aaron Presley” someone will make this book known to the public. I read it 3 times, bring 2 boxes of Kleenex tissue.

  • As stated in Alan’s concluding comment “The story is an introspective look at how people fight so hard to get out of the traps others have laid for them, that they do not realize they have fallen into one of their own.” Such a true statement indeed. At this time of every year I recall a Man who fell into that very trap. His name made Him a “Prisoner” of His fame.His death is memorialized every August 15-16th at Memphis Tennessee USA. His name as you may have already guessed was “Elvis Aaron Presley.” What most of His fans never knew was that Elvis was the son of a Jewish Mother, Gladys Love Smith Presley, thus making Elvis Jewish by Birth. Although He and His mother embraced Christianity as their faith of choice his mother Gladys kept her Jewish Heritage secret until the day she died due to fear and prejudice in the south. Elvis Honored his mother’s Jewish heritage by having The Star of David engraved on Her Grave Marker. Sadly when he died they exhumed her and buried her and her son at Graceland’s Meditation Gardens. Her Star of David was never again Honored as one can see when visiting Graceland. Her son was not alive to see it through. A book was published about 2 years ago entitled “The Final Curtain a Love Story Untold.” The author remains anonomous for personal reasons. The story tells of how Elvis in his last year of life stepped out of charactor, removing his christian cross and replacing it with La Chaim, and The Star of David worn just below La Chaim on his chest. He wore these symbols the entire last year of his life throughout the 1977 Final Curtain Concert Series, honorig his mother. The 1977 Concert series is not available to the public. Why? Because Elvis was making a statement and those in power were not happy. Today, when fans pass his grave marker at Graceland, they see his name “misspelled” as Elvis Aaron Presley on his grave marker. All wonder why Aaron and not “Aron” which was how he spelt it all his life. Why the change? The answer in the book is Elvis birth name given to him by his Beloved Mother Gladys was “Elvis Aaron Presley” 2 “A”s. Due to antisemitism in the south with war brewing in Europe and Hitler preparing to invade Europe Vernon had the name changed to Aron to protect the son and mother. In the end Elvis Seals His undying Love for Gladys by having engraved on his grave marker “Elvis Aaron Presley”in effect Reclaiming the gift his mother gave him at birth The name of Israil’s 1st High Priest “Aaron.” Gladys named His stillborn twin brother Jesse, the Father of King David. What a great story. I hope in honor of what this man had to endure from his manager who wanted the “Jewish thing” kept silent and how it hurt his mother to have to hide her Jewish heritage untill the day she died, that someone will make this book known to the public. I read it 3 times, bring 2 boxes of Kleenex tissue.

  • Bee

    Logan Lerman is Jewish, but I’m pretty sure Sarah Gadon isn’t Jewish, what makes you think she is?

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