Young Adam (2003)

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Released 29-Mar-2006

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Audio Commentary-Cast And Crew
Featurette-Making Of-The Missing Beat
Featurette-Ewan McGregor Original Passage Narration
Music Highlights-Soundtrack By David Byrne
Theatrical Trailer
Trailer-Piracy Ad, Happy Together, Nicotina, When Will I Be Loved
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2003
Running Time 93:46
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By David Mackenzie
Recorded Picture Co.
Madman Entertainment
Starring Ewan McGregor
Tilda Swinton
Peter Mullan
Emily Mortimer
Jack McElhone
Therese Bradley
Ewan Stewart
Stuart McQuarrie
Pauline Turner
Alan Cooke
Rory McCann
Ian Hanmore
Andrew Neil
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $29.95 Music David Byrne

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
English Descriptive Audio Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes, lots.
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Wanderer and struggling writer Joe (Ewan McGregor) works as second hand on board a barge on the Scottish River Clyde. Joe gets along comfortably with skipper Les (Peter Mullan) and even better with his wife Ella (Tilda Swinton), carrying on a gritty sexual affair right under Les's nose. As Ella's feelings grow, Joe remains distant and indifferent, failing to connect emotionally with Ella at all. And when Joe and Les discover a nearly naked woman in the river, hints of darker moments in Joe's past begin to surface . . . .

    Such a brief description of Young Adam's plot does the film little justice. Ultimately, though, it is not the plot that is primarily important: Young Adam is all about mood. The film drips with a kind of aimless sorrow and a heavy coldness. Joe's indifference weighs heavily and it is heartbreaking to watch Ella's face come alive while Joe stares back with absolute impassivity. The gorgeous photography of the River Clyde adds to the feeling of creeping dampness and the mood is completed by a beautiful score by David Byrne. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of the film is that Joe's coldness is never resolved, never overcome: the film finishes with the bleak drift it begins with.

    Young Adam is based on beat writer Alexander Trocchi's novel of the same name. Trocchi had himself established in avant-garde circles from the beginning, editing literary magazine Merlin and publishing the likes of Samuel Beckett and Henry Miller. He was involved with Guy Debord in the French Lettrist International and Situationist movements, embarking often on the group's "dérives" (driftings). These driftings were aimed at letting urban spaces carry the drifter and resonate with his or her mind. I haven't yet read any of Trocchi's work, but it would be interesting to see how far he carried the idea of drifting away from his Situationist roots. Young Adam is tied up in a certain sense of dérive, although a purposeless drift lacking in resonation that ultimately dislocates any possibility of emotional connection. An early shot in the film (from 13:35) looks down on Joe walking along the barge against the boat's movement so that he stays in the same position in frame. As Swinton notes in the commentary, Joe thinks he's travelling, but even with all that movement, he's going nowhere.

    A small storm of controversy gathered around Young Adam's release, much being made of the many blunt and honest sex scenes. Some critics felt that the sex had merely been added for its shock value. Several moments are definitely disturbing and shocking in their own way, and there is a rumour floating about (I'm sure it's mentioned somewhere in the special features) that Trocchi's publisher Olympia Press (a French press famous for its series of Traveler's Companions - plain green copies of avant-garde literature and erotica) would only accept Young Adam if he inserted a sex scene every six pages. He courteously obliged and the endless sex might seem a little meaningless or gratuitous. I don't think it follows that the film itself is likewise pointless. Rather, the endless sexuality serves to intensify the feeling of emotional emptiness and the tragedy of Joe's disconnection. There's no positive meaning to be gained from the film and the film shouldn't be disregarded for what is perceived as an empty core. If the viewer is left feeling hollow at the end, then the filmmakers have achieved their goal.

    Initially I went into this film curious to see what the fuss was all about. I came out at the end definitely affected and a little disturbed. But the film has left me thinking and that's always a positive. Young Adam is film that deserves to be seen, but one that also deserves thought and debate.

    Young Adam is currently a rental release only, but is due out for sale 29 March 2006.

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Transfer Quality


    In general, the video transfer of Young Adam. is very good, with just a few problems. It is presented at a ratio of 1.78:1, 16x9 enhanced, a significant strike against the video transfer: the original aspect ratio is 2.35:1.

    Sharpness and shadow detail are variable: exterior shots are very detailed and nicely sharp, while the barge interior shots are very soft and lacking in detail. Night shots, depending on the position of lighting, also tend to lack in detail. Low detailed shots also tend to carry a lot of low level noise and the entire film has a grainy look (which I like). The transfer has a nice filmic feel to it.

    Colours match the film's mood and the Scottish setting: very grey, as though slightly foggy, with only a splash of green on the banks of the river Clyde. The transfer has something of a silver glow to it, again bringing the transfer closer to filmic appearance. This effect was achieved by some kind of bleaching process. the process is discussed in the commentary track, but I could never catch its exact name. Skin tones appear relatively natural but are often lit brightly. Blacks are deeply black, although grainy. Overall, I am still pleased with how the transfer looks.

    I didn't catch any MPEG artefacts to speak of, besides some pixelization at 87:50, and there are no other problems to speak of bar a few black specks here and there.

    Both subtitle streams are yellow and mostly accurate, skipping a few words here and there.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The audio transfer is excellent. The disc includes English Dolby Digital 5.1 (default), Dolby Digital 2.0, a commentary track and a descriptive audio track. I listened to the 5.1 and commentary tracks and sampled the others.

    Dialogue is clean and clear at all times (unless you have difficulty with the Scottish accent), with no hiss or crackle. Audio sync is accurate.

    Despite being a dialogue driven film, both the main tracks are nicely immersive, although the 5.1 track is naturally more dynamic. The surrounds are put to good use carrying the sounds of the coal works and the creaking of the barge and the subwoofer supports the sound of the barge's engine and the score to excellent effect.

    The score for Young Adam is composed by David Byrne and is fantastic. Even if this film's not for you, the score is definitely worth a listen. Using jazz elements here and there and ambient strings, guitar and piano, Byrne creates a beautifully tragic mood for the film. The closing credits song, Great Western Road is also beautiful.

    The descriptive audio track is very descriptive. The voice actor's descriptions come from the centre speaker and take a lively tone, but use a suitably hushed voice for the sex scenes.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Main Menu Audio

    16x9 menu with a loop from Byrne's score. The menu is very much in keeping with the film's mood.

Audio Commentary

    I'm not sure what to say about this commentary. At times, the participants simply point out things they like onscreen. At others they make insightful comments and observations. During silences, you can hear the participants drinking and swallowing and Swinton sounds just a little bored. Worth a listen.

Featurette-Making Of

    Fairly uninspiring making-of. Cast and crew interviews along the line of "McKenzie is a brilliant director," "We made a brilliant film," and "Ooh - my character gets to have a lot of sex." Skip it.


    Original voiceover narration. Ewan McGregor's narration was cut from the film and played here over stills.


    Byrne's complete soundtrack accessible separately to the film. A better option than an isolated film score.

Theatrical Trailer

    The trailer emphasises the dead body and gives away just a little too much.


    4x3 trailers for Happy Together, Nicotina, When Will I Be Love, and the classic Piracy Ad.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 2 UK release is identical to ours, but presents the film in its original aspect ratio. It is not clear whether the soundtrack is only an isolated score. As far as I can tell, it is uncut.

    The Region 1 release is also presented in its original aspect ratio with French subtitles, but no English subs. The disc has two commentaries, the same cast and crew commentary we get plus a solo effort by McKenzie. The original narration featurette is included. The disc is censored to gain an R rating. Joe and Ella's first sex scene has been trimmed, but the footage can be found as a deleted scene. Region 1 loses about three minutes, hardly an insignificant cut.

    Weighing it all up, I'd call Region 2 the winner. The correct ratio tips the balance, but our uncensored disc beats out Region 1.


    A difficult but thought provoking film, Young Adam deserves to be seen and debated.

    The video is very filmic, but has a few minor issues.

    Despite being a dialogue driven film, surround sound is used very well.

    Extras are mostly valuable.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Adam Atkinson (read my bio)
Tuesday, February 07, 2006
Review Equipment
DVDSony DVP-S336, using Component output
DisplayLG Flatron Widescreen RT-28FZ85RX. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver.
AmplificationYamaha RX-V357
SpeakersDB Dynamics Belmont Series: Fronts: B50F, Centre: B50C, Rears: B50S, Sub: SW8BR

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