BY ROGER THOMAS
One of the best experiences one can have in the cinema is the surprise when a film goes in a complete different direction than what was expected.
I say this often: “Too many times, trailers reveal too much and the film is already familiar before the studio logo comes across the screen.” I am happy to report the opposite is true about “Indignation.” In fact, the trailer actually tricks you into believing this wonderful film is about a great many things that it is not.
“Indignation” is defined as “anger or annoyance provoked by what is perceived as unfair treatment.” The film is about a young man going to college and finding that the experience is different than he expected. As many have experienced, there are the challenges of roommates, professors, fellow classmates, studying, responsibilities and learning to fit into a world quite different than the one left behind.
The film is set in the early 1950s, 30 years earlier than my experience in college. However, there were so many similarities that I could not stop thinking about those wonderful days of higher education.
I could make a list of the things the main character Marcus faces that are identical to my first year. Of course, as the film progresses, there are a great many things that Marcus encounters that are nothing like my personal experience.
Logan Lerman plays Marcus. I have watched this young actor since he starred in the television series “Jack and Bobby,” which is not about the Kennedy brothers. Lerman is captivating in this film.
Beyond Lerman, there are two other incredible supporting roles. Sarah Gadon plays a fellow student who takes a liking to Marcus when he finally gets up the courage to ask her out. Then there is Tracy Letts as Dean Caudwell. Letts and Lerman have one lengthy scene that is simply one of the best moments in cinema this year.
As I often write, the best films are about ideas. Plots are good, but a great plot also produces at least one idea to ponder. It does not have to be an original idea, it only has to be one worthy of contemplation.
At the very beginning of the film, as Marcus narrates, he offers up that idea which ultimately serves everything that happens on screen. The quote simply says, “Every choice we make ultimately leads to our destiny, whether we realize it at the time or not.” By early adulthood, there is an accumulation of things we would have done differently if we had the opportunity of a do-over. I believe Marcus would agree.
There are many technical strengths in the film. It looks great. The young actors in supporting roles all give nuanced performances. But in the end, it is the story, which has so many twists and turns and choices by the characters. I kept waiting for the film to falter, but it never does. It is always good when every moment makes one more and more satisfied with what is on screen.
I would point out, however, there are several scenes in the film that may be objectionable for some. There is no nudity at all, but there are two instances where sexual activity is obvious. There is also some dorm language that may be offensive to some. This language just reminded me of some of my past roommates.
“Indignation” is based on a book by Philip Roth. I have never read any of his novels but there are two films based on his books coming to theaters. The other is “American Pastoral.” After seeing “Indignation” I am inspired to seek out the novel. I may become a Roth fan.
As for “Indignation,” it is one of the best films of 2016.
Roger Thomas is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. He reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.