By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Such a narrative setup has more than a little in common with Albert Camus’ The Stranger, on which Young Adam was obviously modeled, but Trocchi takes Camus a long step further by offering a protagonist for whom guilt and innocence are merely “convenient social fiction[s]” that he refuses to embrace. “Go to the police?” Joe asks himself late in the novel. “Confess? In practice I knew it would prove fatal to me. In principle it would have been in an indirect but very fundamental way to affirm the validity of the particular social structure I wished to deny.” In that regard, Trocchi’s intentions are directly related to the inviolability he would later espouse in Cain’s Book — the idea that, in a corrupt society, engagement itself is a form of capitulation, which leaves no other option than to stand apart.
This, of course, is a difficult concept — both for Trocchi’s readers and for the author, who, one might argue, willed himself into silence by taking such an unrelenting stance. It’s not just an amoral perspective, but one that’s almost actively anti-moral, an attack on the very notion of ethics, which Trocchi sees as capricious and impure. For that reason, perhaps, the film of Young Adam softens his position, even as it remains faithful to the movement of the book. MacKenzie’s (and McGregor’s) Joe is less a philosophical rebel than a basic 1950s antihero, dark and brooding, prone to silence, with little of Trocchi’s ambiguity. Because we see the girl’s death, there’s no doubt that it is an accident, which makes Joe innocent in a way his literary counterpart can never be.
By the same token, the movie invests Joe with a sense of responsibility, the insistent pull of conscience, a quality the novel assiduously avoids. “I was trying to create a character that you’re both compelled and repelled by,” MacKenzie explains, “someone who is as far from innocent as you can get but still not guilty.” That’s a convincing variation on what Trocchi had in mind, yet it feels antithetical for Joe to follow the trial, not, as happens in the novel, “to see how the lawyers and other court functionaries committed legal murder,” but rather as a reaction to his own guilt, a cry for expiation in some way. At one point, there was talk of making the redemption explicit; an early version of the script featured an ending in which Joe walks into a police station, whether to turn himself in or not we would never know. “Ewan, Tilda and myself,” MacKenzie says, “staged a mini-mutiny. It would have been a major cop-out, and changed the entire meaning of the film.”
MacKenzie’s right, although even without this ending, the film can’t help but back away from the novel’s point of view. It’s a common reaction to Trocchi and his writing, and it’s why he’s unlikely to be rediscovered to any lasting degree. For Trocchi, after all, there is no guilt or innocence, no traditional morality of any stripe. His whole career, including his final quarter-century of silence, represents an assault on such distinctions, a vision of humanity so stark it’s nearly impossible to hold its gaze.
YOUNG ADAM: A Novel| By ALEXANDER TROCCHI | Grove Press | 146 pages | $12 paperback