Sunday, December 18, 2005

Young Adam

I'm figuring that with Tilda Swinton playing in the Narnia movie, those theatres which are not showing it have been looking around to find other movies in which she has acted, so they have something for those who come out loving her as the White Witch. I can't see any other reason for the Metro showing Young Adam now: it came out in 2003. Ah well: any who do see it because of Narnia will be in for a small surprise if they see : its a deeply disturbing movie.

Ewan McGregor is Joe: the film opens with him dragging a near naked young woman out of the Clyde river. This event has absolutely no apparent emotional impact on him at the time, surpising given that it is his former girlfriend, Cathie. As the movie progresses, he does start to show more interest - looking for news reports about it and then attending the trial of the man charged with her "murder".

The style of the movie is to tell two parallel stories: the present one of the impact, or lack of it, of Cathie's death on Joe and the past one of the events leading up to her death. In his previous life, he was a struggling, frustrated writer who casually picked Cathie up at the beach one day and then lived off her. The story of their relationship is (deliberately) fractured, so we only get to see a few major events and have to draw our own conclusions. For example, there is a scene in which Adam (I think) rapes Cathie in a particularly degrading way - but it is possible that in the bits we don't see, they do engage in consensually rough sex. I think Cathie was crying as it happened, but am not really sure. Apparently, the captions say she is laughing: I do know that we see them quite composedly cuddled up together that night. Then, a while later, she kicks him out. We don't get to see what led to that.

It is that which leads to his present life: he biffs his typewriter into the Clyde and is offered a job on a barge - one which mainly runs coal up these tiny canals from Glasgow. It is a very hemmed in life - there is Joe, Ella (Swinton), her husband Les (Peter Mullan) and their young boy. They live onboard, in a space about as big as the inside of Webster. The life they lead is not exactly spacious - most of the filming shows the barge surrounded by high banks, tunnels and locks with very few shots of open land or the sky. It is a part of the world I've never seen, nor expected to see in a movie: although oppressive, it had a kind of gloomy beauty and was wonderfully shot.

Of course, the inevitable happens: since there are no other women in his life, Joe starts going after Ella (successfully). When Les catches them and leaves, Ella's sister moves on: she and Joe are at it that night. The audience knew exactly what to expect when Joe finally left the barge and meets this fellow in a pub who offers him lodging, saying that he works nights and so it would be just Joe and the missus a lot of the time. So, yes, there is lots and lots of sex - I've seen comments from a couple of reviewers that they had to leave because there was so much. It struck me as very strange sex - as inevitable and automatic as the barge trips, with a certain amount of physical tenderness but no emotional connection between anyone involved. And Joe's choice of women seem to get worse as he goes on: Cathie seemed to be truly lovely, Ella was a pretty tough nut and her sister was horrible: kind of like a slutty Hilda Ogden!

But the true point of the story is the way in which Cathie came to die and Joe's failure to stand up and take any responsibility when he saw a man convicted of murdering her and being sentenced to death. Everything moves towards that moment.


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