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Directed by James Schamus

USA, 2016

HOME, 23 December 2016


This is a brilliant adaptation of Philip Roth’s coming-of-age (and then some) novel.

Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman) is a Jewish lad from New Jersey (like Roth himself) who wins a scholarship to attend an Ohio college, thereby escaping the draft for the Korean War. At college he dates Olivia (Sarah Gadon), a beautiful but emotionally turbulent girl with a history of self-harming. He is puzzled when she gives him a blowjob and wonders whether she has done it before and who with. An highlight of the film is Marcus’s conversations with Dean Hawes Caudwell (Tracy Letts), the head of the college. These conversations are intense fencing matches that continually swerve from the virulent towards the absurd. His parents telephone Marcus long distance and are anxious about his welfare, but they cannot save him from the world no matter how hard they try.

What I liked best about the film is that it realised a recognisable version of Roth’s world, a world that’s an amalgam of Fitzgerald and Kafka and much else besides. The bleak take-home message is that no one can be saved. We exist for a short while after our death in other people’s memories but they ultimately will perish too. Our last, best hope is art – and that includes films like this.