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 Young Adam

"Cowardy Custard." I am not sure whether this translates across the Atlantic from Britain. Essentially it is the equivalent of 'chicken.' Young kids taunt each other with it or at least they did back in the daze when I was one. I don't know the origins of the phrase but my guess is that the colour of custard has something to do with it. Young Adam is a film about a character called Joe who is a coward and he is involved in a visceral sex scene with custard.

Memoirs of a Justified Sinner OR How to be Yellow. It's simple. You make a mistake. One stupid mistake, an accident. But no one catches you and no one knows you were involved. So you keep your mouth shut. Goodbye innocence—not that there was much in the first place—hello guilt. But you get away with it. The only problem is that someone else gets the blame. What can you do?

You keep your head down. You watch while the whole thing spirals out of control. You act the casual observer. Intervention is impossible now. Your conscience keeps nagging, but you push it below the surface. You hide in your job. You find a lover. You use the lover to distract the emptiness. You disgust yourself. But you hang on to your secret because you are alone and it is all you have to protect yourself.

If only that conscience would let you go. The voices are getting louder. You have to do something. So you run. But you don't get far. Curiosity gets the better of you. You walk into the lions' den and you watch the feeding frenzy. You know it will be you they're after if they even sniff your secret. 'It was an accident!' you want to scream, but you know they've got the taste for blood. Now you start to care. You want so much to make it stop but nothing's going to prevent it now. So you join the crowd and stand as close to the action as you can. You know enough tomake it end, but you do nothing. You watch. Closer. Closer. Closer. Urging yourself to do something. And then it's over. You walk away.

It's easy to be a coward. All you have to do is keep your mouth shut. Except Joe (Ewan McGregor) isn't really a coward, he is just not heroic. He makes mistakes like we all do. I guess that makes him an antihero. Heroes are for children!? Maybe most of us adults would find it easier to do the right thing if it wasn't so frightening or inconvenient. Maybe sometimes we don't even know what the right thing is. Sometimes we get paralysed. In a way that's what this film is. It's a paralysis film—an in-action film.

Young Adam is based on a novel by Alexander Trocchi—a Scottish 'beat' writer and therefore almost by definition an honourary American—not that you'd want to have him; he escaped from New York in the early sixties with a mandatory death sentence hanging over him for selling heroin to a minor. Hardly likely to get a visa nowadays. Don't lock up your daughters though, he's long dead. Ironically the core of the book is about the lunacy of the death penalty. But it's more than that, it's a good old fashioned 'beat' story. As Tilda Swinton, who plays Ella, Joe's central victim, says, "Young Adam is about the crisis of the alienated intellectual and it's about the whole question of spiritual loneliness. These are our themes now. We're living in another beat time. That's why it's important to talk about loneliness and alienation because it's everybody's deal."

What about the custard? Well we couldn't have all this dark and broody existential stuff without a bit of romance to sweeten the medicine. Beatnik food sex games—is it possible to get more romantic?

If you see Young Adam, you don't have to like Joe, Ella or any of the other characters. Maybe if you watch a film about someone who is worse than you are, you might end up feeling better about yourself. Maybe you might feel a little more like a hero.


P.S. It's funny how a crowd is an anagram of coward.

 

Joe (Ewan McGregor), a transient, finds work on a barge owned by Ella (Tilda Swinton). One afternoon, her husband Leslie (Peter Mullan) and Joe discover a young woman's corpse floating in the canal. After the police investigate and arrest a suspect, we learn of Joe's relationship with the deceased. Meanwhile, an implicit attraction develops between Joe and Ella and claustrophobic tensions arise among the three in the confines of the barge. Based on Scottish writer Alexander Trocchi's 1954 novel; directed by David Mackenzie. Original music by David Byrne.