Tuesday, August 7, 2007
TRAINSPOTTING (1996) - Danny Boyle
Lord knows how long ago it was when I first saw Trainspotting. All I know is I had to sneak a look at it. I was fifteen when it was released, and I knew I'd be banned from seeing it by the parentals. So I'm pretty sure I saw it in one of the local kid's houses. All I know is it had an immediate impact on me, and stayed with me ever since. It's been a while since I watched the movie, so tonight I thought I'd revisit it to see if it still has the same impact as it once did.
For those of you who haven't seen it (and what the hell have you been doing with yourselves, if you haven't?!), Trainspotting is essentially the story of Mark Renton, a heroin junkie from Edinburgh in Scotland. Renton uses the drug to escape reality. A reality that sees him commit petty crimes in an attempt to feed his habit. He is surrounded by people he questionably calls friends, each with their own addiction, be it drugs or violence. Renton decides to kick his heroin habit, but finds this increasingly difficult as he cannot break the ties with his group of friends. No matter how far he tries to distance himself from them, they find a way back into his life and offer him nothing but ways to destroy himself.
Trainspotting is a difficult film to discuss without descending into cliche. Obviously, it's one of the most influential movies of the 1990's, and probably one of the most popular British films of all time. It made a star of Ewan McGregor (Renton), and launched the careers of director Danny Boyle, and actors Robert Carlyle, Johnny Lee Miller and Ewan Bremner. What works about the film is that it approaches the difficult subject matter of heroin addiction in a manner that is honest, hard-hitting, yet it doesn't refrain from throwing in some wicked comedy.
Based on the novel by Irvine Welsh, Trainspotting's iconic opening sets the pace for the rest of the film. Welsh and screenwriter John Hodge never compromise with their characters, who are the driving force of the film. Renton is clearly an intelligent guy. His problem is he's not strong enough to make a full break from his friends and the heroin. He says himself at the beginning of the film he's vowed to kick the junk many times, but cannot make the full commitment, no matter how good his intentions. His addiction to the heroin and his misguided loyalty to his friends are intertwined. One cannot exist without the other.
Trainspotting wouldn't be a success if Renton was the only interesting character in the film. It's to Welsh's credit that he creates fully fleshed out and compelling characters that surround Renton, each with their own conflicts, desires and behaviors. One of the most iconic of these characters is Francis Begbie, a psychopath who doesn't get off on doing junk, but on 'doing people.' He's different from the Travis Bickle or Norman Bates type of psycho, in that he's open in his love for violence, at one point starting a riot just for the pure sick thrill it gives him. Robert Carlyle's portrayal of Begbie is terrifying, but brilliantly realised.
Danny Boyle's direction is fantastic. The pacing of the film (which clocks in at 94 minutes) never lets up. Every frame of the film is fully realised and drives the story along. When it comes to the darker side of heroin, the film doesn't shy away from how dangerous and destructive the drug is. The scenes of Renton going cold turkey are a nightmare of hallucinations, with Renton writhing and screaming in his bed as horrific visions creep across his bedroom ceiling. While the film isn't as depressing as Darren Aronofsky's Requiem For A Dream, it in no way makes light of the subject of heroin addiction.
The film itself is packed with pop cultural references, from the obvious in Iggy Pop and James Bond, to more subtle references like The Beatles' A Hard Day's Night. Indeed, the soundtrack itself is as iconic as the movie itself, with songs by aforementioned Iggy Pop, and Lou Reed, Blur and Underworld amongst others, perfectly complimenting the film.
As I finished watching Trainspotting, I was in no doubt that the film is as relevent now as it was eleven years ago. In fact, it has improved with time, and I found myself appreciating the more subtle elements of the film such as pacing and editing and not just the hilarious dialogue and more superficial elements (not that they are in any way weaker elements of the film). What is undeniable is that Trainspotting is a brilliant, hard-hitting, and highly entertaining film. And one of the best films Britain has ever produced.