Trainspotting – 1993

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For many years now I have noticed “The trainspotting cult”. Unfortunately this is not a cult of violent middle-aged men brandishing perfectly sharpened HB pencils but rather an unavoidable truth that most people who have seen Danny Boyle’s breakout film will extoll it’s virtues to high heaven.

I’m not at all sorry to say that I have joined this cult. Trainspotting is a film that stays with you in the best way that a film can, through its imagery. Danny Boyle is a master of the pure visual art. Anyone who remembers his slightly more sentimental Oscar-winner, Slumdog Millionaire, would be hard pushed not to associate the colour yellow with Latika. Trainspotting is a more radical, stylish attack on cinematic preconceptions. Renton’s (Ewan McGregor) drug withdrawal symptoms become a nightmare sequence incorporating purpose-built sets and Hitchcockian camera techniques.

While often, in cinema, a voiceover narration shows a weakness in the script or a refusal to trust the audience; for example, the painful shoehorning of a voiceover into Blade Runner, here the voiceover acts to tighten up the script. It doesn’t take on the role of exposition, moral judgement or nostalgia but remains within the mind of Renton to express his reactions to what we’re seeing. It’s a neat ploy, where the audience is seeing squalor and misery he is only seeing his friends and day to day life.

In the opening monologue Renton pours disdain on the people who choose to live a normal life, unlike the one he leads among the heroin addicts of Edinburgh. Yet throughout the film’s episodes we see Renton repeatedly try to choose the way out, back into the society he claims to hate. Despite the film’s comic, almost uplifting tone, this group of friends does suffer, terribly. It’s a chilling conclusion that Renton comes to. Choosing to conform will end suffering, but at the price of the greatest highs he’s ever known, heroin and the freedom to choose. In this respect the script packs all the right punches. This isn’t a tragic story of trapped addicts seeking redemption. This is a story of rebellion, anti-capitalist ideals and a cry for self-determination in a corporate world.

The soundtrack boils over with 90’s Eurodance music, a genre where even the name screams of a hope of unity and identity. A hope that is undermined by the class barriers Renton finds himself confronted by. When he moves to London a hopeful montage of diversity and prosperity greets him, only for him to end up in even more dire straits than he was before. In the end Renton does choose to conform. As he starts his new life it’s easy to wonder whether he’s really as happy with the new direction he’s taking as he seems or if he, like the people he used to hate, has finally learned to love Big Brother.

  • Entertainment: 5/5
  • Artistic:            5/5
  • Intellectual:      5/5
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