Young Adam

Young Adam is a 2003 British drama film written and directed by David Mackenzie and stars Ewan McGregor, Tilda Swinton, Peter Mullan and Emily Mortimer. The film is based on the 1954 novel of the same name by Alexander Trocchi.

 

The film is set in Scotland in 1954. Shiftless young drifter Joe Taylor works on a barge which operates from Glasgow, on the River Clyde, along the Forth and Clyde and Union Canals to Edinburgh. He shares the cramped on-board living quarters with its operators, Les and Ella Gault, and their young son Jim. One day Joe and Les pull the body of a young woman, naked except for a petticoat, from the water. Via flashbacks, we learn Joe knew her, and scenes involving his relationship with office worker Cathie Dimly are juxtaposed with those set in the present time.

After finding Cathie’s body, Joe and Les go to a local pub to play darts. Joe leaves Les behind and returns to the barge, where Ella succumbs to his advances. Not wanting to disturb the sleeping Jim, the two engage in sex on the towpath. It proves to be the first of many such encounters they enjoy whenever they can find a few moments away from Les.

In the past, Joe meets Cathie on a beach and the two soon are living together. He aspires to be a writer and spends his days banging on a battered typewriter while she works to support them. Joe begins to suffer from chronic writer’s block and Cathie, unhappy with his lack of productivity, accuses him of taking advantage of her. He packs his meager belongings and moves out. After tossing his typewriter in a canal, he meets Les, who offers him a job on the barge.

Les eventually becomes aware of Ella and Joe’s affair and moves out of the barge, which belongs to her, and Ella and Joe drift into a more serious relationship. When she receives word her brother-in-law has died, she and Joe visit her sister Gwen and invite her to spend a couple of weeks with them. One evening, on the pretext Gwen would like to see a movie, she and Joe leave the barge and go to a pub. After a few drinks, the two have sex in an alleyway.

Eventually, Ella’s desire to settle in the suburbs and her no-nonsense supervision of the barge’s daily commercial activities put a damper on the once-unbridled passion in her relationship with Joe, and he packs and leaves.

In the past, Joe and Cathie reunite on the waterfront and have sex beneath a parked truck. She reveals she is two months pregnant with his child, and when Joe nonchalantly begins to walk away, she runs after him, trips, and falls into the water while dressed only in her petticoat. Joe makes no move to rescue her and, when she fails to surface, he panics and runs away.

Past and present converge. Daniel Gordon, a plumber whom Cathie was casually seeing, is arrested and tried for her murder, and Joe spends a few days in the courtroom listening to testimony. Guilt-stricken, he writes an anonymous note absolving Daniel of the crime and leaves it where a courthouse guard can find it. It has no effect on the proceedings, and Daniel is found guilty and sentenced to hang. Unwilling to risk his life, Joe opts not to confess how Cathie really died and sets off for parts unknown.

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