David Mackenzie’s pretty-to-look-at but hollow Young Adam (adapted from the Alexander Trocchi novel) follows a young drifter, Joe (Ewan McGregor), between Glasgow and Edinburgh while he fucks every woman in sight. The drifter lives and works on a barge manned by the scruffy Les (Peter Mullan), whose wife Ella (Tilda Swinton) is seduced by Joe’s ability to sustain an erection. Joe’s curious obsession with a dead woman he pulls out of the water is explained when the film’s forward momentum is questionably intercut with scenes from the drifter’s past. By incorporating this gimmick into the narrative so late in the game, Mackenzie both undermines the emotions of his protagonist and the audience’s ability to connect dots chronologically and still remain interested in the material. Sure, the fearlessness with which Joe beds Ella (and the issues of dominance associated with their sexual encounters) fascinatingly parallels the man’s disconnect from the world, but Mckenzie seems less concerned with the moral dilemmas perpetuated by the film’s central mystery (and addressing the original sin implied by the film’s title) than he is with taking his characters’ clothes off. “A woman doesn’t get undressed for nothing,” someone says at one point, seemingly pointing to Mackenzie’s own contrived portraitures of impoverished women swooning before McGregor’s ready-and-willing lothario. Because the film’s women so readily disrobe (or wear very little underwear), the film’s ludicrous pudding-and-ketchup make-out session dangerously toys with the idea that Emily Mortimer’s Cathie participates if not wholly encourages her own rape. Young Adam is no more than a series of naughty sexual encounters with a specious moral quandary tacked on at the end. It lacks both the dangerous allure of Tropic of Cancer and the walking-on-eggshells existentialism of Crime and Punishment.
Director David Mackenzie shot Young Adam on the grimiest and grainiest film available. The effect was brooding on the big screen, but the effect is entirely different on this DVD edition-day sequences are sometimes beautiful, but the grain is so prevalent during night sequences that it renders the image nearly unwatchable. But more pressing than the unfortunate image and serviceable audio is the R rating on the back cover despite the fact that the film was released in theaters with an NC-17 rating. Nothing seems to have been cut (including Ewan McGregor’s penis), so one can only assume that someone in the ranks of the MPAA has decided to downgrade the rating since the film’s theatrical release.
Two commentary tracks: an overcrowded one with director Mackenzie, Tilda Swinton, and the film’s editor and production designer, and a second with Mackenzie talking solo. Those serious about the film will want to choose the latter but it should be mentioned that Swinton contributes the single most relevant comment on the two tracks when she calls the boat in the film an "expensive treadmill" during the fifth chapter and sees McGregor’s movement (or lack thereof) as a metaphor for his inactive philosophical existence. Rounding out the features is an extended version of the scene where McGregor goes down on Swinton on the side of the road, three voiceover narrations deleted from the film, and trailers for Young Adam, BAADASSSSS!, Big Fish, Carandiru, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter.and Spring, and The Mother.
Don’t be fooled by the R rating on the back cover of the DVD, Ewan McGregor’s penis is still uncut.