Written and Directed by David Mackenzie
Adapted from the novel by Alexander Trocchi
Young Adam grabs your interest right away when the dead body of an attractive young woman, wearing only a petticoat, is found floating in a Scottish river. Joe, a young drifter, first spots her and is affected by the discovery. As the authorities investigate the case and a man is put on trial for her murder, it is revealed to the viewer that Joe had had a relationship with the woman. He knows what happened but will he step up to help clear an innocent man, possibly implicating himself? Young Adam starts off as an intriguing mystery but the plot soon dissipates, drifting along aimlessly like the dead body in the opening sequence.
Les and his family, wife Ella and son Jim, run a barge from Glasgow to Edinburgh. Joe is a drifter who they have recently hired. One morning, he finds a dead woman in the river. He and Les pull her out of the water and they call the authorities. As Les reads about the dead girl in the next morning's paper, he ponders the events that led to the woman’s murder. Joe vehemently disagrees that it was a murder and waxes poetically about the circumstances that might have led to her to death. His description and language differ greatly from Les, illustrating that Joe isn’t a normal barge worker.
Joe is out of place, but as his character is slowly revealed to us, who he is and where he is make sense. Like most drifters in stories, he’s running away from something and is going to stir up trouble along the way, especially one attractive as Joe. He has sex to distract himself from dealing with his life and it’s interesting to watch Joe use and be used women.
There is an attraction between Joe and Ella that is finally consummated one night while Les is away at the bar throwing darts. As the affair continues Joe is less and less interested in Les’ invitations off the boat. One night Joe and Ella are awoken by Les vigorously walking around on deck in an effort to get their attention. Joe doesn’t act remorseful, and rightly so since he’s not sorry. Instead he offers to pack his things and leave. Les tells him that the barge belongs to Ella, so he is the one who will be leaving.
Another plotline occurs and is intercut throughout dealing with Joe meeting Cathie, the dead woman. Their relationship explains the degree of Joe’s interest as well as how vocal he gets with people in regards to Cathie’s death, especially when another man, a plumber who did work at her apartment and who she started dating, is charged with her murder. Joe rents a room near the courthouse so he can attend the trial. He sits in the gallery every day unsure of what to do: save the innocent man or protect himself.
Although I have never read the book on which it is based, the film’s story feels like there is a lot missing from the book’s narrative. I’ve seen guys like Joe many times before, but I don’t know what makes Joe Taylor unique other than his story is set in Scotland, and even that I have doubts about. The film is supposed to be set in 1950s Scotland, but I’d never know it and only found out from the press packet. It could have been anywhere in rural Great Britain from the ’50s to present day.
The movie ends anticlimactically and comes off as a bit of a disappointment. Even though I believe the actions of the Joe, he must have had an interesting internal dialogue going on in the book regarding the trial and his relationships. His distance, or perhaps numbness, to his world could be translated with written words thereby being understood by others; however, in a visual medium there’s no connection made with Joe and where he ends up. The theme of the story abruptly switches from dealing with Joe to dealing with society. It came across as the ending to a different story.
Young Adam has an NC-17, which is creating some buzz and I don’t understand the entire situation. The sex isn’t particularly graphic, even though there are a number of scenes containing it. The rating is probably caused by one quick glimpse of Ewan’s McGregor in a poorly lit room as he gets out of bed and puts his pants on. I’m not sure what women or gay men look for in male full frontal but it barely registered with me. There’s not much detail and after the sheet gets pulled off him, he jumps up and puts his pants on. My only thought was, I haven’t seen someone else’s penis since OZ.
Viewed alongside the graphic violence of Kill Bill Vol. 1, it is yet another example of America’s puritanical views. Some parts of the body are filthy and dirty and even though we all have them they shouldn’t be seen; however, it’s okay to see those same parts butchered and mutilated. It makes me think about purchasing that “Don’t blame me; I voted for Nader” bumper sticker I passed on 3 years ago.
On the other hand, I don’t understand the need to get an NC-17 for this film. It will hurt the film’s ability to be advertised, exhibited and sold. A number of newspapers, television stations, theater chains, and video stores will have nothing to do with this film. Plus, the scene is so inconsequential that nothing is gained from the few moments Ewan appears on screen au natural. People will go with heightened expectations only to be disappointed, generating bad word of mouth. A few scenes trimmed to get the R wouldn’t have damaged the integrity of the film or those involved with it. Artists do have battles to fight, but this is certainly not one. It’s a waste of time and resources.