Young Adam (5/10)

Copyright © 2004 by Tony Medley

If you want to see a dark movie, this is it. Set in Scotland in the ‘50s, Joe (Ewan McGregor) is a selfish cad who is living with a married couple, Ella (Tilda Swinton) and Les (Peter Mullan), on Ella’s barge. Joe is sleeping with Ella whenever he gets the chance. As the film opens, Joe and Les pull a partially clothed dead woman out of the water. It turns out she was Joe’s girl friend, Cathie (Emily Mortimer). While the plot of the film is to try to determine what happened to Cathie and whodunit, the underlying theme is a character study of Joe and the lower class people who populate his life.

Joe gets more action in this movie than most guys get in their entire lifetime. All he has to do is look at a woman and she’s pulling down her panties (if you’ve ever seen Ewan McGregor, maybe in the deplorable Down With Love (2003), in which he had more chemistry with Tony Randall than he did with Renée Zellweger, this does truly have to be seen to be believed).

This troubling film is written and directed by David Mackenzie, adapted from the novel by Scottish Beat writer Alexander Trocchi, who was a controversial poet. In fact, when he attended the Edinburgh International Writers’ Conference in 1962, Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid denounced him as “cosmopolitan scum!”

If this film is any indication of the book, he wrote a scummy novel. The film is rated NC-17, because of one prolonged scene of oral sex. But it contains profligate sexual acts throughout and includes full male and female frontal nudity.

Unfortunately (or, fortunately, depending on your point of view), the sex is anything but sensual. There is no love or tenderness or affection involved in any of the sexual acts performed. It’s just rutting for the sake of rutting. And it’s neither sexy nor attractive.

What’s good about this film is that the characters are true to their nature. Joe is a weak, manipulative user who cares about nobody but himself, and he remains true to that to the end of the film. This is a dark, depressing film that will appeal to some, but you have to be prepared for it and in the right mood.

March 12, 2004

The End