Through the grime of life on a barge in the canals of Scotland, director David Mackenzie involves as many sex scenes as possible to tell the story of Joe’ s (Ewan McGregor) life. This has nothing to do with satisfying a kinky urge and everything to do with~the correct portrayal of the Alexander Trocchi’s 1957 novel, “Young Adam.”
Mackenzie succeeds, although by the end of the film, after seeing Joe have sex with four different women, he also succeeds in depicting the most raw and detached of any emotion sex, one could have expected to see in this film.
Artistically, “Young Adam” is Mackenzie’s greatest creation to date. In America, the film is available only in independent theatres in New York and Los Angeles. This is Mackenzie’s second full-length independent feature and by far has the most enviable cast yet.
Renowned British actress, Tilda Swinton, brings texture to “Young Adam.” Swinton adds layers upon layers of depth that is all her own. She contributes with the extra touch that makes it almost uncomfortable for viewers to witness, everytime she appears on screen.
McGregor, best known for his work in Hollywood blockbusters, takes a different approach here. With the lead role in “Young Adam,” he explores the deeper and more complex sides of humanity. Never before seen as such an idiosyncratic character, McGregor really steps outside of his skin in order to portray the tortured and sadistic Joe.
Cast members Peter Mullan and Emily Mortimer each with 30 and 28 film credits respectively, both prove why they are such widely praised actors, in this film. There is something sickeningly twisted about involving Mullan and Mortimer because their acting grounds the main idea of “Young Adam.” It being, how unconcerned characters like Joe and Ella are at the misery they inflict upon the ones that love them.
The film first introduces Joe and his boss Les (Mullan,) as they pull the dead body of a woman out of the water and on to their barge. As Les goes away to call the police, a sinking feeling rises in one’ s stomach when Joe caresses the partially nude woman. It is unclear whether this is a gesture of pity but the feeling quickly passes when the police takes the body away.
This is the only scene in the movie in which Joe is alone with a woman he does not have sex with. The next time he is in the presence of a woman, it is his boss’ s wife Ella (Swinton.) The scene can be described as nothing but gritty and the film only gets dirtier from here.
“Young Adam” is laced with flashbacks of Joe’s life before he starts working on the barge. For every scene in the present, there is one from the past. The story goes back and forth as investigations of the murder of the drowned woman progress.
Joe’s ex-girlfriend, Cathy Dimly (Mortimer,) is introduced in one such flashback. When Joe gets bored of their relationship, he rapes Cathy in a gruesome scene, before he leaves.
“Young Adam” produces a number of these scenes and presents them in such a way that does not leave room for any emotion besides muted distress. It is in this way that the audience is forcefully engaged into the plot.
“Young Adam” is art in its most intricate form. The NC-17 rating does little to prepare audiences for the emotional burden this film will place upon their conscience. It is for this reason that the depth to which Mackenzie manages to reach viewers is far greater than one might be comfortable to walk away with.
3 out of 4 stars.