Freedom From Choice Is What You Want - 'Trainspotting' Review

Updated on January 16, 2019
Sam Shepards profile image

Hi, I'm Sam, I love movies. My main interest is science fiction and zombie movies. Pessimistic and survival films I also enjoy a lot.

Trainspotting will always have the enormous merit of introducing the world to a global sub-culture starting from the most local context possible.

Director Danny Boyle, screenwriter John Hodge, and novelist Irvine Welsh managed to show the 90's rave drug culture by telling the story of a group of underprivileged Edinburgh teenagers.

The absolute protagonist and who carries the lead voice is Mark "Rent Boy" Renton (Ewan McGregor). Although being a small-time thief, Renton usually has an "acceptable" moral compass considering his junkie status as a heroin addict. At the start of the story, his only concern is to get the money for the next cooking session.

The story begins with Renton literally fleeing the law at full speed while making one of his most iconic inner monologues: A mockery of the "choose life" anti-drug campaign. Renton doesn't want to be a conformist and believes that heroin is the best weapon against that.

Daniel "Spud" Murphy (Ewen Bremmer), is his best friend. A young man with obvious intellectual problems, this poor addict is perhaps the one who has the biggest heart of the group.

Simon "Sick Boy" Williamson (Jonny Lee Miller), is the polar opposite of Spud. He is perhaps the most cynical of the group and the most experienced con artist of them all. Sick Boy spends his time scoring, stealing and rambling about movies throughout the whole process.

The junkies in Trainspotting have many problems and are far from being exemplary citizens, but are not shown as mindless broken zombies. On the contrary, they are clearly human beings with virtues, genuinely trying to be their best versions of themselves without abandoning pleasure and vices in the process. And that is precisely one of the biggest strengths of this movie.

That's why the character of Begbie (Robert Carlyle) is so important in the story. Practically a hyper-violent and brutally selfish sociopath, Begbie deeply despises heroin, while, unknowingly, he's an absolute addict to alcohol and his aggressive impulses.

The gang is completed by Tommy (Kevin McKidd), who, unlike the other four, leads a healthy life apparently free of addictions. He has a stable girlfriend, plays football and likes to go out with his friends. Tommy exists for several things, but in principle to show us that addicts are not necessarily reclusive and asocial ghosts.

Trainspotting uses the exact dose needed of surrealism to show the reality of its characters. Whether it's the "worst toilet in Scotland" sequence that goes from the disgusting and grotesque to the clean and calm; or the scene of Renton's overdose submerged in a red carpet scored by Lou Reed's "Perfect Day", Danny Boyle is very careful not to fall into a forced artsy tone.

Because Trainspotting is, above all, a story about urban poverty and little sense of belonging and pride. Our charismatic gang has absolute shame to be Scottish (except perhaps when football gives them some eventual happiness) and live their lives oppressed for their economic, social and personal needs.

The character of Diane (Kelly Macdonald), is an interesting attempt to show aggressive and independent femininity in a completely male-dominated story. Diane is just a schoolgirl, but she brandishes her sexuality with an enviable personality. She's a great contrast to Renton.

Trainspotting advances at a vertiginous pace, showing different aspects of the life of these "fuck-ups". The pleasure obtained by the heroine is brilliantly described visually and in the dialogues, with lines like "Take the best orgasm you've ever had ... multiply it by a thousand, and you're still nowhere near it." It's an honest description and the reason why many decide to turn to chemical escapism.

But not everything is a glamorization of the drug culture. Trainspotting has its large dose of vomit, shit, and blood. There are a couple of sensible deaths shown without any kind of subtlety so that there is no doubt about the lethal and really destructive consequences of heroin.

And it's precisely this delicate balance between "party hard" and decadence that makes Trainspotting a genuine, believable and timeless portrait of heroin addiction.

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Because yes, Trainspotting could be enjoyed exclusively for the temporary capsule it shows. A generation open to the most extreme recreational drugs, which look to the past to see influences or references like Iggy Pop or Lou Reed but have a firm footing in the electronic rave subculture Dj'd by Prodigy or Underworld. So 90's.

But Trainspotting transcends that. 20 years later and still shows no signs of aging. It could be a film made this year, set in the past. Its themes are more relevant than ever and Danny Boyle's direction is just timeless.

That's a testament to its absolute condition as a movie classic.

Movie Details

Title: Trainspotting

Release Year: 1996

Director(s): Danny Boyle

Actors: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle a.o.

5 stars for Trainspotting (1996)

© 2019 Sam Shepards

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