Review written by Karim Malak.
In the movie Indignation, an adaptation of Philip Roth’s work, the viewer gets a taste of how a Jewish atheist student, Marcus (Logan Lerman) struggles to attend weekly sermons at a prestigious boarding school. Despite doing all he can to avoid being a Jew, Marcus plays a richly written role of a young school boy who is moved by philosophy, music and the arts. Yet despite such qualifications he is reduced by his school master – Dean Caudwell (Tracy Letts) to sheer inferiority, showing American Anti-Jewish attitudes which are written out of history. With classic anti-Jewish tropes emerging in the film, the movie centers around young ‘Marcie’s’ life where he falls in love with the beautiful Olivia Hutton (Sarah Gadon). As both explore their bodies together, word gets round and Olivia is shamed. While Marcus is taken aback by Olivia performing fellatio on him, he tells his roommates who begin to shun him and shame him. Word gets round fast.
Dean Caudwell uses the opportunity to remind Marcus of Olivia’s past attempted suicide and that she was in an asylum. This is interesting in bringing together how WWII-era ideas about the mental ward were used not only to police women’s bodies – making their sexuality seem like a disease that needed to be controlled – but that it was an ungodly disease that spread first to non-Christians such as Jewish Marcie, who for all his proclamations of being an atheist is not allowed to be one. In fact, Marcus refuses to join the Jewish Fraternity, something that seems to be beyond the head of the fraternity to understand. Yet when Marcus gets sick while arguing with Dean Caudwell, and faints because of his appendix, he wakes up in the hospital only to find the Jewish Fraternity taking care of him. For someone who tries to escape his religion so much, it cannot escape him.
In true renaissance fashion, Marcus embraces his studies and attempts to rise above the discrimination and loneliness by immersing himself in his studies. This idea whereby Marcus constantly removes his Jewish markers that would make him stand out becomes futile. In a heated discussion with Dean Caudwell, he tells him that his father is a butcher, that is what he listed in his paperwork after all; but Dean Caudwell reminds him his father is a kosher butcher. Marcus replies that he begs to differ, his father is not only a kosher butcher. This serves as an apt motif in the movie, why is it that Jews are made to identify as only Jews and at precise moments?
Marcus goes against instinct and upon learning that most students skip weekly sermons by hiring someone to hand in their attendance card, agrees to hire someone. Yet oddly enough his fixer is caught despite all other students having never been caught before. Dean Caudwell clearly does not want Marcus to stay at the school despite being a scholarship student. Upon getting caught red-handed, Marcus is kicked out and is forced to join the army in Vietnam because of the draft. The movie ends where it began: with Marcus running in Army uniform and dying in Vietnam. Marcus’s experience is precisely about the power to have his Jewish identity dictated to him despite all his efforts to hide it; in fact it is not only about having his identity dictated to him by those who want him to remove it, but it is about when his identity is dictated for him. If everybody gets away with forging their attendance during weekly sermons, it is the fact that Marcus was an agitating Jewish student that meant that they policed who handed in their attendance cards rather than leave the box where attendance cards are deposited unattended. It is at this moment, while the war in Vietnam is being fought, that Marcus was rendered a Jew despite all his attempts, ultimately resulting in his death.