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Review: Young Adam (2003)

Director: David Mackenzie | 94 minutes | drama | Actors: Ewan McGregor, Tilda Swinton, Peter Mullan, Emily Mortimer, Therese Bradley, Ewan Stewart, Stuart McQuarrie, Pauline Turner, Alan Cooke, Rory McCann, Ian Hanmore, Andrew Neil, Arnold Brown,

Dear reader. When you hear the word “Filmhuisfilm”, do you immediately think of incomprehensible, vague productions in which you have to put your gray matter to work? If the answer is “yes”, you can immediately forget about the that is now being discussed. “Young Adam” is the type of film that has everything arthouse haters dread: a difficult storyline, an unclear plot and static acting. So if you don’t feel like watching a tricky film full of heavy material and intellectual worries, you can stop reading now.

So, after this household announcement, let’s take a closer look at “Young Adam”. As a true cinephile with a penchant for the tough stuff, you will find a lot to your liking in this film. Because “Young Adam” is challenging, cross and insulting. After the movie, you will still be left with unanswered questions. Questions like “Who is the protagonist anyway?” And what makes him leave a trail of broken hearts and destroyed lives?

“Young Adam” revolves around the taciturn Joe (McGregor). The man spends his life on a boat with the alcoholic Les (Mullan) and his wife Ella (Swinton). Joe’s life is characterized by loneliness and emptiness. To pass the time, he turns to sex. Joe’s nihilistic existence comes at a price. Friendship and love are not for him. The heartthrob’s life is disrupted when a corpse is suddenly washed ashore. Does Joe know more about this?

Don’t let the synopsis fool you: “Young Adam” is nothing like a or detective story. The idiosyncratic can best be compared to a loose character sketch of a displaced person. Joe is a typical anti-hero. The man is socially inept, taciturn and narcissistic. We get to know our “hero” as a chain-smoking loner living a meaningless life. Sex is the catalyst of its existence. The consequences of his lust don’t lie: people’s lives are completely disrupted and our apathetic Joe doesn’t seem to care.

The plot of the slowly unfolds, but there is no question of a tightly defined story with complete characters. The dreamy “Young Adam” allows you as a viewer to fill in the gaps in the story yourself. How do you feel about Joe and his environment? Is our “hero” a tragic loner who has fallen prey to his lust or do you see him as a self-centered bastard bent on deliberately destroying people? The film does not answer these questions. It is up to your interpretation to form an opinion about the enigmatic protagonist.

plays Joe. The Scot is in good shape and uses his language and charm to convey his character’s emotions. The great thing about McGregor’s performance is that despite Joe’s many nasty traits, he manages to portray a fairly likeable character. Something is brewing beneath the surface that keeps the character interesting. The Scot gets good counterplay from Mullan and Swinton. Mullan paints a realistic portrait of an alcoholic who cannot control his life. Swinton is also on a roll as Mullan’s sleazy wife who is completely absorbed in her affair with McGregor. In addition to all those big names, the lesser-known Emily Mortimer holds her own as Joe’s haunted lover.

The acting of “Young Adam” is rightfully the best the has to offer. Director Mackenzie has shot a real actor film where the story is secondary to the acting. Stunts or special effects are not included in this production. Beautiful on the other hand, former member of the pop band the “Talking Heads” David Byrne provided the sombre, melancholic soundtrack. The stylistic camera work enhances the depressive atmosphere of the film.

By now you will have understood that this “Young Adam” is not an everyday fare. The demands a lot from your empathy. How far are you willing to go to empathize with the seemingly undisturbed and cool Joe? Can you sympathize with a man who is imperturbably headed for self-destruction? Are you willing to invest your precious time in a difficult movie that doesn’t deliver bite-sized chunks? If the answer to the above questions is “yes”, then you will undoubtedly be able to enjoy this devious film. Seldom has immorality been portrayed so compellingly.

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