Plenty of films center on the trials and tribulations of young adulthood; many movies depict the ways in which college can be a battlefield for self-discovery. However, in Indignation, Marcus Messner's (Logan Lerman) journey from New Jersey to an anti-Semitic college is anything but ordinary. The movie opens Friday at the Cedar Lee Theatre, Chagrin Cinemas and Regal Crocker Park.
Set in the early 1950s, the aptly named film tells the story of a highly intelligent Jewish boy who ventures off to a small college in Ohio where he is treated unfairly by the dean for being Jewish. However, unfazed by discrimination, Marcus refuses to accept prejudice as normalcy. He rejects the bid of a prestigious Jewish fraternity, seems content with having no social life, routinely verbalizes his thoughts on the absurdity of attending chapel and finds solace in his studies. His life is normal, perhaps even a little bit boring.
But then he takes fellow student Olivia Hutton (Sarah Gadon) on a date.
Like most other coming of age movies, the premise of Indignation predictably revolves around romance. Boy meets girl, boy falls for girl, boy's life changes because of girl. However, despite the predictability of this narrative, the film is still hauntingly beautiful to watch. You know Marcus will fall for Olivia from the minute he meets her. Beautiful, mysterious, smart, mesmerizing and profoundly different, Olivia is everything a man could ever want but can never have; Marcus's mistake is believing he could have her.
The beautiful disaster that unfolds is, of course, inevitable. From the moment Olivia candidly confesses to being hospitalized for attempted suicide, it's clear that her sanity would come unraveled at the hands of Marcus. Though she seems stable during their fleeting time together, her sexual promiscuity and secrecy plagues their future. This short-lived love affair ruins Marcus. Olivia ends up hospitalized after a nervous breakdown while Marcus winds up fighting in the Korean War.
The Titanic-esque crash of their lives is hard to watch. In fact, at times, the film feels like a horror movie. If not for the lovely, soft score, period-piece costumes and cinematography, it could easily be classified in a different genre.
The film's shortcoming lies in the fact that it doesn't develop Olivia's character. She's a fascinating and mysterious character, but she gets very little screen time. The audience knows next to nothing about her except that she almost killed herself and spent the remainder of her life haunted by her mental illness. At the beginning and end of film, we see a nurse caring for an old Olivia in a room with wallpaper that's reminiscent of the flowers she gave Marcus. If not for the wallpaper, it would be unclear as to how much she actually cares for him. We know what becomes of Marcus, but her life is far more intriguing than the protagonist's; it's just too bad the movie ends before we can figure her out.
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