Thursday, 30 March 2017

Trainspotting (1996)

Fig 1 - Trainspotting Poster
Danny Boyle's Trainspotting (based on the Irvine Welsh novel of the same name) is a devastatingly candid and exhilarating portrait of the drug scene that rocked the UK in the 1990's. Renton (Ewan McGregor) is a heroin addict in his mid-twenties who aspires to kick the habit and "choose life", only to find himself back on the needle time and time again. Renton's friends Spud (Ewen Bremner) and Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) are less than encouraging when it comes to going cold turkey, being that they are also addicts. Their circle of friends is often punctuated by the presence of Begbie (Robert Carlyle), whose hot-headed temperament usually leaves the group on the sidelines witnessing yet another of his psychotic breakdowns. All the while, Renton continues to strive for sobriety, resisting the constant temptation to relapse whilst struggling to contemplate where his friends' loyalties truly lie...

The film hits on a number of themes, namely those of addiction and morality, which are highlighted by the central characters' complete disregard for the legality of their actions. Throughout the film we bear witness to a whole host of criminal acts, including drug dealing, theft, assault, manslaughter, statutory rape and enough heroin consumption to make the BBFC collapse onto a fainting couch and fan itself senseless. Having said that, the film never appears to glorify these acts but rather exhibits the consequences of partaking in such an 'underground' lifestyle. The film also calls into question the social acceptability of drugs such as alcohol and Valium, a drug to which Renton informs us his mother is "domestically" addicted. With this in mind, it comes as no surprise when the central characters make ethically misguided decisions as they struggle to come to grips with the notions of 'right and wrong' in such a contradictory society.

Fig 2 - Trainspotting - Renton
In terms of direction, the film has become somewhat prominent in popular culture due to it's use of experimental camera angles and surrealist imagery. Trainspotting does a fantastic job of thrusting the viewer into the life of an addict from the very opening, in which we follow Renton and Spud running from the police in a fittingly adrenalised shot down a busy high-street. The film only settles down once the opening burst of visuals come to a close, reflecting the rush of an initial high and the inevitable come-down that follows. We also witness Renton partaking in his favourite pass-time in first-person which, at one point, sees him quite literally sink into the carpet, engulfing his field of view. This carpet-obscured angle tracks Renton's entire journey from crack-den to hospital, which gives the viewer a second-hand interpretation of the blissful tragedy unfolding around him. Without question, the film's most memorable shot occurs during Renton's final attempt at sobriety in which, during a hallucinogenic frenzy, he witnesses a baby crawling along the ceiling. This entire scene perfectly reflects the descent into madness Renton must endure in order to reclaim the life he has so willingly neglected and encapsulates the horrific consequences of drug addiction.

Incidentally, I was absolutely convinced by the exceptional casting, particularly those responsible for drug-addicted characters. Every reaction to a hit came across in their expressions of fleeting ecstasy, with particular props to Ewan McGregor on whom the film focuses most. McGregor's commitment to the realistically gaunt and skeletal frame of an addict made Renton all the more compelling and believable as a character. In addition, Robert Carlyle as the unhinged Begbie gives a fantastically intimidating performance that makes the ending feel all the more justified.

Furthermore, the film's soundtrack makes for a great blend of classic britpop and 90's techno, featuring the likes of Lou Reed with 'Perfect Day' and Underworld's 'Born Slippy'. The soundtrack, in conjunction with the film, will make for an utterly nostalgic experience for viewers who reveled in the boom of the 'clubbing scene' before the turn of the century. For those who didn't, it will likely transport you there regardless.

Trainspotting is undoubtedly my favourite of Danny Boyle's films to date and thus I cannot fault it. It's a relentless fix of adrenaline from start to finish that provides an exciting yet terrifying glimpse into the all-too-real world of addiction. It's a huge hit that shows exactly why you'll never want one.


Fig. 1 Trainspotting Poster (1996) From: Trainspotting - Directed by: Danny Boyle

Fig. 1 Trainspotting Screenshot (1996) From: Trainspotting - Directed by: Danny Boyle

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