"It's SHITE being Scottish! We're the lowest of the low. The scum of the f*cking Earth! The most wretched, miserable, servile, pathetic trash that was ever shat into civilization. Some hate the English. I don't. They're just wankers. We, on the other hand, are COLONIZED by wankers. Can't even find a decent culture to be colonized BY. We're ruled by effete arseholes. It's a SHITE state of affairs to be in, Tommy, and ALL the fresh air in the world won't make any f*cking difference!"
FANTASTIC MOVIE! Choose Trainspotting!!
There is a pit in my stomach as I write this. Great films stick with you. Great films provoke a reaction. Oftentimes it's joy, or a sense of tragedy, or some lingering glimpse of profundity through art. But other times it's horror; other times it's disgust; other times it's skin-crawling revulsion that makes you wonder if there's any happiness to be had in a world where these sorts of things happen.
And Trainspotting is a damn good film. It features stellar performances (from its lead in particular), an inventive visual sensibility, and story that continually yet artfully punches you in the gut through the whole run time. And because it's stuck with me, because it's provoked a reaction in me, I'm not sure I ever want to see it again.
It's not because Trainspotting is a tragedy. That element is certainly in there, with innocents left to suffer for reasons beyond their control. But mostly it's because the film is about terrible people, people who take advantage of one another, people who have no reserve in hurting someone else just for the fun of it, and people who see the opportunity for one of them to break out of that cycle and cannot help but drag them back into the muck. No, Trainspotting is not about tragedy; it's about fatalism, about unavoidable doom brought on or encouraged by a twisted bliss that you inject into your arm.
But that horror sneaks up on you. The opening third of the episode or so feels like a comedic, slice-of-life look at Scottish heroin addicts that doesn't feel so far away from a sitcom setup, with relationship troubles, buddies bonding over their shared successes and failures, and the folks at the center of the story just generally messing around and living their lives with a sort of reckless abandon that is equal parts dumb, funny, goofy, and more than a little gross.
From the beginning of the film, it's clear that these are not good people -- shooting dogs with pellet guns to get them to bite their owners, stealing sex tapes from their friends, and bloodying random patrons at the bar and getting into fights over it. Sure, these guys are shits, but they feel like mildly amusing, mostly self-destructive shits, who get into the standard kind of shenanigans that wouldn't feel so out of place on a much rougher version of Friends. They have relationship troubles and come up with wacky schemes and come back 'round to hang out and make their roughly-hewn sense of it all.
And then that goddamn baby dies.
It's hard to think of a more horrifying image I've ever seen on film. It outstrips every horror movie and piece of cinematic brutality I've witnessed in terms of the pure, gobsmacking awfulness of it. The camera pans across the poor infant's body. It lingers just long enough and then, in keeping with the grammar of cinema, cuts to our protagonists' reactions, lulling the audience into a false sense of security that they won't have to see it again. But then the film cuts back, it doesn't let the viewer off that easy or attempt to elide the sickening nature of what's taken place.
That's the turn in the film. Renton's voiceover says as much, explains that something changed after that point, but it's also a wake up call within the film. The boyish roughhousing and rowdiness and hijinx of the character's we're introduced to in the first part of the film are not harmless or victimless. They are the silhouette of the disease that casts the shadow, that gives these awful people license to continue being awful, to continue to ignore and turn away from the harshest things in the world because there's a vial of euphoria waiting to keep them from it, to be as selfish as to even jump in line ahead of the woman with the most grief in the race for that chemical distraction. These are not charming rakes who are charming in their incorrigibility; they are terrible human beings who do terrible, terrible things and an engage in whatever behaviors are necessary to avoid having to face how terrible they are.
The rest of the film is a parade of those terrible things. It's hard to know whether heroin is the cause or merely an accelerant to them. There's no origin story for Renton and his pals here. When we see them off of the junk, they may not be robbing or stealing, but their not exactly saints either. Begbie never touches the stuff and might be the worst of them. He and Sick Boy take advantage of Renton in London when neither of them is using and pull him back into the life he'd nearly escaped. Heroin didn't cause the horrible events we witness in Trainspotting. It didn't make these people; it just made them worse.
It made Renton worse because it provided him a means for avoiding ever having to emotionally confront the pain he's caused and the selfishness of his actions. the standout sequence in the film is his detox, full of a phantasmagoria of that guilt and fear and horror that he'd found a way to keep from himself coming back at him full bore in a flash of images, whether they be the spectre of AIDS, the image of poor abandoned Spud, or unnerving, devastating baby. There are a number of fanciful sequences in the film that convey the dreamlike quality of a man able to avoid the worst things in his life because of heroin -- whether it's diving through a toilet bowl that turns into a pristine sea, or overdosing on his dealer's floor while his POV is surrounded in velvet--but in that moment where the drug is escaping his system, those visuals curdle into a nightmare.
The coda to that nightmare is Tommy, the seeming one good man among Renton's acquaintance. Through Renton's shining influence, both by stealing Tommy's sex tape and letting him try heroin, not to relieve Tommy's pain, but because Renton needs the money for his own habit, Tommy ends up addicted, infected, and eventually dying a miserable death while Renton does nothing to fix his mistakes.
In a film whose balance consists of a parade of horribles, that development and the poor innocent child left to perish while its erstwhile caretakers are awash in a neglectful euphoria stand out as the most tragic. But the film's final act may be its most dispiriting. Because for a while, it seems like the nightmare works. That Renton, who's had every opportunity and bit of help his friends--Spud in particular--did not, is at least, it seems, finally able to escape. He moves away. He has a job. He's made a clean break.
But it's not to be. He cannot separate himself from his friends who reinforce his debauchery, who lead him back into misery and thievery and self-destruction and the heroin that makes it all seem tolerable. Trainspotting is not just a story about some bad folks; it's the most effective anti-drug PSA ever created, that shows the awful, stomach-churning trajectory of these people's lives and the depraved, hopeless way that they continue to try to eat one another when their escape of choice is involved. It shows the way it makes them desperate, uncaring, unmoored from life or decency or real happiness, not through fear or exaggeration, but through an unflinching (if stylized) depiction of where this road leads you, what the people who can't "choose life" choose instead to escape the button-down existence they either don't want or can't have. It shows the ugliness at the core of who they are, the parts of their souls that have festered and rotted under the guise of that chemical reaction, and in visceral terms, makes you want no part of it, or them.
A very good film adaptation of an even better novel! Please read the novel by Irvine Welsh, it's better than the film!
Don't do drugs kids! Great movie!
Excellent film! Great soundtrack. Go watch it!
Yo! That's Zero Cool! aka: Crash override. aka: Dade Murphy. He went from an Elite Hacker to a junkie.
dude its like an fucking american pie with some disgusting stuff and drugslul
Still a great film, and just gets better every time....danny boyle.... great work... Top films list it will go... XD
The acting is phenomenal, the music is terrific, the film is a pitch-perfect example of energizing editing and brilliant use of montage, and its script is one of the best ever written, alternately hilarious, horrifying, tragic, and benefiting from a rare level of depth and resonance. A British classic is what Trainspotting is recognized as, and a British classic is what it is.
Fantastic perfomance by Ewan McGregor!