Indignation is a movie that tries to combine the question of religion within an academic life, alongside a romance that never made sense in the first place.
What’s another movie about a white guy trying to find some purpose? Let’s talk about Indignation.
When I went to watch Indignation I’ll admit that all I knew was that it centered around a college guy’s “sexual awakening.”
That may have have been my biggest problem from the very start.
After the film ended, I was asked what my thoughts were, and many were shocked when I gave them a disinterested reply. They tried to explain to me what the theme of the movie “actually” was, as if I didn’t understand, and as if there actually was one.
But none of them could explain away my main issue: the fact that I was made to feel bad for this guy that brought it all on himself.
Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman) goes to college so he won’t have to go fight in the Korean War, something we know he can’t escape from the very beginning. When he gets to college, he ends up facing off with the Dean about religion being a part of academic life, no matter what religion, all while embarking on a sexual fling with the mysterious Olivia Hutton (Sarah Gadon).
It’s the way these two plots connected, or didn’t connect if I’m being honest, that made me dislike Indignation. Why am I supposed to feel bad for this guy who is going up against the religious expectations at his college? When, instead, I could focus on the barely fleshed out female lead who got lost in the shuffle?
Olivia Hutton is introduced from the start as a potential romantic lead; she’s meant to do more for Marcus than for the plot or herself. When Marcus makes a comment in class that stands against his professor’s, Olivia’s looking over at him as if to tell us that she is captivated by his mind. We then see her through the typical male gaze with Marcus watching her sitting in the library, her legs exposed, and him being fascinated by her after.
From then on, it’s just a mess of a story where this girl does and reveals things to Marcus that are in his point of view, outrageous. They go on a date, which inevitably ends with her giving him blowjob.
We have a solid amount of time where Marcus just wonders if Olivia is a slut or not because good girls clearly can’t be experienced when it comes to sex.
Poor guy can’t go out on any more dates with this girl since she’s clearly trying to tempt him away from his beliefs. Yes, the same beliefs he doesn’t actually believe in or follow. You would think his Jewish faith would make him cautious of a female who is much more open with the idea of sex, but he’s an atheist, so where does this disillusion come from?
Later, Olivia is trying to apologize for performing this sexual act, explaining that she only ever did it once before at a party where she was drunk. Which lead to her trying to commit suicide.
This, of course, just pushes Marcus into a deeper spiral of confusion since he can’t be with a good girl who would do such a thing. Yet he still walks and stops near her window at night, and he still watches her from afar sometimes as if she’s a mystery that he cannot solve.
This theme continues throughout the film; Olivia showing up just to offer Marcus some sexual pleasure in the form of hand jobs while he tries to learn more about her. It’s like he’s trying to figure her out so he could excuse away all of this ”weird” behavior.
It all comes to a head when Marcus’ mom shows up, scares away Olivia, and tells him never to see her again. He tries, but he doesn’t actually get the chance because Olivia disappears. Just like she entered the story, this mysterious girl is no more, and all we get is that she had a nervous breakdown that lead to her being hospitalized once again. There’s some random mention of a pregnancy that can’t actually be true, and then we have that parting shot of an old Olivia in the mental hospital looking at the floral wallpaper that reminds her of her past.
Marcus’ life ends a bit differently, but if I were to be honest, it all ended up that way because of his own choices. His possible love for Olivia played no part in him getting suspended and drafted for the war.
So when it was insinuated that I should feel sorry for this boy that could have had a future, only to have it all yanked away from him, I couldn’t help but wonder why.
Why am I supposed to feel sorrow for Marcus when I could feel sorry for Olivia?
I feel sorry that we never learned more about who she was outside of a romantic choice for Marcus. I feel sorry that she was made to feel like she was a slut for taking pleasure in giving a guy pleasure; the same guy who didn’t even think of returning the favor.
I feel sorry for the pain she must have felt that lead up to her suicide attempt, only to then have to hide in shame and fear. I feel bad that Marcus’ mother saw and told him that girls who harm themselves are somehow messed up for it, as if it’s just something that’s done for fun and not because someone is struggling. I feel sorry that Olivia was overtly sexualized, while simultaneously having to apologize for engaging in any sexual act.
I feel sorry that we never knew much about her, and we never would because she ended up living her life in a hospital because mental illness was a sign of weakness. I feel sorry for the potential that she had to contribute to the story that never made it off the ground because Marcus and his scattered issues mattered more than she ever could.
I even feel sorry for his mother: a woman who felt trapped in a loveless marriage where she didn’t recognize her husband and tried to find a way out only to be forced by her son to not go through with the divorce she clearly wanted.
I feel sorry for the few women that were in Indignation because it was their stories that presented the real tragedy, and the fact that most of the audience won’t understand that has to be the worst part.