Young ones is a Western in the greatest sense of sci-fi. To boiling down the plot, it’s a tale of a son’s revenge where the offending event happens 40 minutes in, once the viewer is adjusted to their surroundings. Set in a future where once fertile farmland is now a desert, and where it’s perfectly normal to wash your dishes with dust.
Ernest Holm (strongly played by Michael Shannon) is a father with an unknown past who is doing the best he can for his family.
His daughter named Mary (played by the quietly better Fanning sister Elle) questions everything about what’s happening instead of adapting.
His son named Jerome (played incredibly well by Kodi Smit-McPhee) looks to his father for direction, but still covers his bedroom walls with sketches of birds in flight, critters seen around the homestead, and the mysterious woman his father had seen on a weekly supply run the city. Oh, I forgot to mention, Jerome watches EVERYTHING.
Ernest has the critical job of making moonshine for the workers constructing a water pipeline, and controlling it’s supply of water to the local farmers.
After a supply run to the water men, the family’s pack mule is crippled and so the family buys a second hand robotic mule, even though the auctioneer’s son, Flem (played angelically & devilishly by Nicholas Hoult), has designs on steeling Ernest’s supply contract, and his daughter.
Thus the central conflict starts to ferment between the generations, old and young. It might be because I’m in my mid-30’s with a young family, but I related most to Ernest and felt his longing for the young to just wait for it and quit insisting on their brighter tomorrow right now.
Once things start getting better, the younger generation’s sins eventually lead to mortal consequences, Jerome discovers what REALLY happened to ‘dear old dad’, and the film climaxes in retribution for the betrayal of the first act.
Overall, Young Ones is one of those movies that is just as much about the details built into it from a wide plethora of Western and sci-fi influences than it is about the primary story along with a good measure of other details that help enrich and explain the world of the film. When I first heard about the Lost Weekend III line-up, Young Ones was a film I was immediately interested in, and at the same time a hopeful & apprehensive that it would be as good as expected. I’m happy to report that it was as good, if not better. It’s one that I would instantly recommend for both a Western & sci-fi film.
Now I realize that I’ve only talked about the first act, and that’s for good reason. So much of the appeal about this film is in how the story unfolds and runs its course in a world that feels lived-in. It really is a Western plot with futuristic elements which heighten and expose the conflict that would otherwise have been a hidden mystery.
Young Ones is also the kind of film that is incredibly smart in its use of budget and special effects. So much if the film is economical, from simple music and orchestration to the principal cast made up of experienced actors and actresses, but only one big name.
Even though it is still one of my favorite Film Club screenings, there were pockets of the film I had forgotten and got to relive again. So good. Bottom line, is it worth hunting down a copy of Young Ones and see this modernized western?? Yes, without reservation.
As a funny aside, when Mad Max: Fury Road was killing at the box office and garnering so much attention, Young One’s distributor tried to get more viewers by re-titling and re-branding the film as Badlands: Road to Fury. I’m fine with it, because it’s just changing the title, and wasn’t made strickly as a cash grab like it seems most films from The Asylum.