From Page to Screen: Indignation


About the Book: Indignation

It is 1951 in America, the second year of the Korean War. Marcus Messner, a studious, law-abiding, intense young man from Newark, New Jersey is beginning his sophomore year on the pastoral, conservative campus of Ohio’s Winesburg College. And why is he there and not at the local college in Newark where he originally enrolled? Because his father, the sturdy, hard-working neighbourhood butcher, seems to have gone mad – mad with fear and apprehension of the dangers of adult life, the dangers of the world, the dangers he sees in every corner for his beloved boy.  However, life is full of unimagined chances and their potential consequences.

Read my review of the book here.

About the Film: Indignation (2016)

Indignation is adapted and directed by James Schamus from the book by Philip Roth.  It stars Logan Lerman as Marcus Messner, Sarah Gadon as Olivia Hutton and Tracy Letts as Dean Caudwell.  More information about the film can be found here.

Book v Film

The film adheres to the book pretty closely but has additional opening and closing sequences that reference events that will take place later in the film.  It omits the curved ball delivered part way into the novel that provides the reader with a fair (but pretty depressing) idea how the book will end.   Logan Lerman is well-cast as Marcus Messner and gives a very effective performance that captures his studiousness and naivety.  Marcus’ college room-mates get less focus than in the book instead central place is given to Marcus’ relationship with the troubled Olivia.  Thankfully, the director retains the standout scene from the novel – Marcus’ interview with Dean Caudwell – and gives it almost 15 minutes screen time, preserving much of Roth’s dialogue and Marcus’ unconventional exit.  Marcus’s sexual encounters are dramatised in the film but not in a graphic way; they are communicated rather by his facial expressions.   Like the book, the film ends quite suddenly and in a particularly dark manner.

The Verdict

I think the director does a good job of adapting Roth’s novel but obviously the process of adaptation means emphasising some aspects and diminishing others (no “War of the White Panties” in the film!).  James Schumas chooses to place Marcus’ relationship with Olivia at the centre of the film, thereby losing some of the minor characters from the book.  From the novel, it is quite clear that Marcus must graduate from college to avoid the draft and that expulsion for breaching any of its rules will have dire consequences.  I’m not sure this comes across as clearly in the film and, had I not read the book, I might have missed the significance of what happens at the end and why we suddenly find Marcus in an altogether different setting.  So, on balance, although I very much enjoyed the film, which is a well-crafted piece of cinema with excellent performances, I think the book wins out (as it so often does).   


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