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Young Adam

a film by David MacKenzie

Anyone who knows their film history and has seen Jean Vigo's 1934 classic, L'Atalante, will see the resemblance in Young Adam, if not stylistically, then at least thematically.   This film, a much dirtier, grimier version though, starts out differently than the Vigo film.   The first sight onscreen is that of a dead woman being dredged out of a dirty Glasgow river by two bargemen (Ewan McGregor's Joe and Peter Mullen's Les), but, as in Vigo's classic, we have the theme of two men and one woman sailing (or more befittingly here, drudging) down stream, aboard the fittingly named Vigo-esque "Atlantic Eve", quiet tensions running on overload.   You know that sooner or later, one of these men must go.

And the film's pacing, although sluggish throughout, wastes no time in getting to Joe and Les' dissatisfied wife Ella (played by the strangely beautiful Tilda Swinton) taking every opportunity they can find to fuck each other's brains out, and I use that term in place of the more tender lovemaking, because, to Joe, fucking is exactly what this is.   To Ella it's something much deeper, much holier, but as we find out later, to Joe, who beds every woman he comes in contact with within the first scene, it's something much more primal.

Taken from the 1954 novel by "Scottish Beat" writer Alexander Trocci, this is a dangerously quiet and deceptively calm film that, at each glimpse of the brooding wolf-like face of Ewan McGregor, threatens to boil over into a cauldren of steamy seductive waters, metaphorically just like those Glasgow waters that the story's oil barge setting floats doomingly down.

This film starts off by seeming to go nowhere, except into the smokey lucid-free cloudiness of Joe's unsatiated loins, until the secret of the dead woman's origins are let known, albeit long before the filmmaker points his obvious finger at the pile of circumstantial evidence, and we are confronted with the fact that the dead woman was Joe's ex-lover.   From here on in, the film begins to resemble Kafka's Trial, seen through the eyes of its unknown guilty antagonist.   Was this murder?   An accident?   Suicide?

As the film moves forward down its lazy, grimy 1950's Scottish river, we see more glances back, into the life of Joe and Cathie (the dead woman played by Emily Mortimer, who was the brilliantly naive sister in Lovely & Amazing).    Was this a relationship built in Hell or was it a psuedo-sado-massochistic love affair?   There is one flashback scene that is so full of unexpected brutality, we are not sure if Joe has raped Cathie in a fury of ketchup-and-mustard-soaked frustration or if she too was a willing partner in her own violation.

In the end, after all the brooding and after all the fucking, we are left with an existential nightmare living its seeded life out on the screen.   Something worthy of a Dostoyevskian treatment, and although, Young Adam never reaches the higher realms of the master of Orthodox Russian angst, it still shows its teeth, like a meandering powderkeg of erotic rabidness ready to pounce, but never quite taking the leap.   We are left with a lingering ghost of a film that quietly tapers off into a paralyzing darkness. [06/27/04]

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