Trainspotting

Trainspotting

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Trainspotting has evoked so much debate about illicit drug abuse that it has achieved a cult following all over the US and UK. The film addresses the problem of heroin addiction, considering both the users’ and the anti-drug sides of the issue. It has the power to shock, terrify and disgust audiences one moment and make them burst with laughter the next. Such a film is a rarity; the last film that accomplished this had to be Pulp Fiction (1994). Though not nearly as successful or popular as Quentin Tarantino’s film, Trainspotting still belongs to the same genre: a representation of hyperkinetic subcultures. Pulp Fiction gave us gangsters and con-artists; Trainspotting gives us drug addicts.

There really isn’t a plot here. The story simply follows the daily lives of a small group of young Scots in Edinburgh who have one thing in common, their shared loved for one of the world’s most dangerous drugs. Renton (Ewan McGregor) wants to quit heroin but can’t. His thoughts guide the film in voiceovers: "Take the best orgasm you ever had, multiply it by a thousand and you’re still nowhere near it." He also gives a shopping list of reasons for not quitting, mostly relating to the domesticated, mundane life that non-addicts live. Such an existence is not for Renton. He’d rather be addicted and not have to worry about food, bills, girlfriends or "choosing life."

Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) is another case entirely. Being on heroin is his excuse for acting in a criminal manner, stealing money, books, television sets. Sick Boy also justifies life with his hilarious "unifying theory" that everything relates in some way to the career of Sean Connery. Sick Boy has no morals either. He even steals Renton’s television and has the gall to ask about Renton’s passport and how much money he could get for it on the black market.

Rounding out this motley club are several others. Begbie (Robert Carlyle) has a psychopathic bent that erupts in abrupt violent acts. He would never stoop to shooting smack but he’ll drink until his eyeballs float. Spud (Ewan Bremner) is a goofy, gangly guy who takes speed before a job interview to insure that his behavior will not get him hired. Tommy (Kevin McKidd) is the only straightlaced member of the troupe who doesn’t do drugs, lie or steal but eventually succumbs to the needle when his girlfriend dumps him and his friends refuse to sympathize with his problems. The scene where he tries to get his friends to go on a nature hike is especially funny. Sick Boy tells Tommy that he shouldn’t take his frustrations out on his friends and Renton spouts a long diatribe on the liabilities of being Scottish. All these characters are in essence different sides of Renton’s personality.

While Trainspotting neither condemns nor condones heroin use, it’s anti-heroin scenes are more effective than any Reagan-era "Just Say No" advertisements. The imagery that director Danny Boyle uses to convey the sense of dread and hopelessness surrounding Renton’s prolonged heroin abuse is amazingly realistic. Renton swears off heroin cold turkey but dives into a filthy toilet ("The Worst Toilet in Scotland") to retrieve his "final hit," a pair of opium suppositories. The underwater world of the plumbing suggests a serene hallucination, accented perfectly by Brian Eno’s "Deep Blue Day."

After promising his parents and a judge that he will quit, Renton takes a particularly strong hit and literally sinks into the floor. The red carpet envelopes his body and he remains there until an EMT gives him an adrenaline shot at the hospital. Again, music is important here; "Perfect Day" by Lou Reed plays softly. When his parents lock him in his room to dry out, his withdrawal is a hideous amalgam of hallucinations, cold sweats, craving and finally, screaming. The scene is terrifying. The film portrays the far more vividly the negative side of addiction than it does the claimed positive aspects.

Trainspotting was based on the novel by Irvine Welsh, who has a bit part in the film as a drug connection. Though the novel is much denser and certainly more detailed than the film, the script captures the essence of the book. Irvine’s semi-autobiographical novel was wildly popular in Britain for three years prior to the film’s release. The film went on to become one of Britain’s most popular films and a cult hit in the US. The soundtrack includes some of Britain’s hottest musical talents, including a few songs by Iggy Pop, whose drum-driven "Lust for Life" pounds over the film’s opening scenes.

Performances by the leads are excellent. As Renton, McGregor gives the character a ghostly sort of appearance and a comic demeanor that is perfectly in sync with the character in the novel. Miller is also good as Sick Boy, a man who sees the humorous side of life but hides a deeper menace, both to himself and his friends. Bremner is outlandishly funny, but he still invests Spud with a deeper sensitivity that makes the audience feel pity for him. As the psychotic Begbie, Carlyle is eons away from Gaz, the character he later played in The Full Monty.

Tom Trinchera

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