Trainspotting (1996)

24 Jun


Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a big television., choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol, and dental insurance. […] Choose your future. Choose life.”

The narrator/main character of Danny Boyle’s “Trainspotting”—Renton (Ewan McGregor)—has rebelled against the comfortable lifestyle his family has, as he finds it very uninteresting, and instead escapes into the world of drugs. Particularly, heroin is what he and his buddies turn to whenever they need something to “care” about. His friends are even less ambitious than Renton, in that they are all sociopathic, amoral, and even more warped than Renton—they are Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), who constantly talks about Sean Connery movies; Spud (Ewan Bremner), a simple-minded, inoffensive addict; Tommy (Kevin McKidd), a nice, honest young man whose personality changes once he hears about the joys of heroin; and Begbie (Robert Carlyle), a psycho who delights in causing great harm people, even dropping a glass on a young woman’s head.

George Carlin once said this about how one feels about drugs—“They make you feel like wanting more drugs.” And indeed, the addiction is very strong with the characters in “Trainspotting.” Renton knows that heroin leads to misery and bitterness, but is constantly drawn back to it because of the hit. At one point early in the film, he even locks himself in a room with soup, ice cream, milk, Valium, water, three buckets (one for urine, one for feces, one for vomit), a TV set, and porn, in order to withdraw himself from the drug. But soon enough, he does get back to heroin. After a series of odd events, he nearly dies of an overdose, leading to a harsh, forceful intervention and withdrawal after which, much like Alex in “A Clockwork Orange” (that is, if Alex was holding and using), he must either cope with the realities of a clean life or give in to madness, pain, and misery yet again.

All of this is told in a bold, stylistic way that makes “Trainspotting” admirable for its look and feel, while at the same time uneasy to watch for the same elements. That makes it all the more effective in how “Trainspotting” frames its characters and their issues—these characters are pretty much horrible people, but “Trainspotting” does deliver and show comeuppances and consequences for each of them. They may embrace their lifestyle, but how long will it last until it hits them back? It leaves room for tragedy and even a little redemption. And it was a smart move not to show the world of drugs from one side of the argument—in order to understand what drugs can do to a person, the film shows things clear and in detail (sometimes strangely and eerily giddy in such) from the characters’ sides. And the best thing about the story—it doesn’t preach in delivering what it has to.

Thanks to a unique visual style and a clever framing device, “Trainspotting” is a very compelling film—not only is it well-acted and well-done in getting its point across without preaching, but it is lively and energetic. Much like Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing,” Danny Boyle creates “Trainspotting” with something that needs to be said about a certain controversial subject and results to all sorts of tricks and such in order to make people remember what they’re supposed to get out of it. in that sense, the film is very successful and quite grippipng.

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