In Scotland in the 1950s, a troubled young man named Joe finds work on a barge running goods between Glasgow and Edinburgh. Indulging in a series of sexual encounters, Joe becomes increasingly detached from the morality of the society around him. Then the
Young Adam is set to become a modern classic of Scottish cinema. With this and his debut, The Last Great Wilderness, David Mackenzie joins Lynne Ramsay (Morvern Callar, Ratcatcher) as one of Scotland's new generation of strikingly talented filmmakers.
Moreover, Mackenzie's adaptation of Alexander Trocchi's novel will surely cause a resurgence of interest in the long-undervalued Scottish 'Beat' writer, who has been championed by Irvine Welsh, William Burroughs and Leonard Cohen.
Trocchi's disturbing novel reflects his troubled life, one which saw the writer addicted to heroin, pimping his wife to fund his long-term habit, rewriting Young Adam as pornography, and dying of pneumonia in 1984.
Thus, the anti-hero of his 1950s-set novel, Joe (Ewan McGregor), is a rootless drifter in the throws of an existential crisis. How does Joe deal with this? By working through a series of sordid sexual encounters which, while darkly passionate, are ultimately unfulfilling.
Just as Trocchi did with his life and writing, Mackenzie pulls no punches, embracing the book's carnal knowledge to make a film that's sensual, seedy and graphic. In one scene, Joe and his girlfriend, Cathie (Emily Mortimer), strip and shag in the oily dirt beneath a parked lorry. In another - one that's stirred up controversy - Joe smears Cathie in tomato sauce and custard before taking her from behind in a desperate, loveless manner.
But there's more to Young Adam than sex. Despite Joe being an outsider - the film, shot largely from his point of view, emphasises this - the relations between him and the other characters are well defined.
With Cathie, Joe moves from desire towards - though never arriving at - something more meaningful. With Ella (Tilda Swinton), the owner of the barge he works on, Joe finds distraction in her enigmatic appeal. And with Ella's husband Les (Peter Mullan), Joe almost finds a father figure (but then betrays him with his wife).
Moody and thrilling, ugly and beautiful, occasionally funny, ultimately tragic, Young Adam is a great bad trip.
Very good, from its pared-down script through atmospheric photography to spot-on performances. But the graphic content and pessimism might leave some cold.