“Choose life…but why would I do a thing like that?” In Trainspotting, Renton and his friends have instead chosen heroin. It’s not glamorous, in fact it’s downright gritty, filled with hardship and heartache. They lie, steal and screw people over for one more hit, that ever elusive euphoric moment of pure pleasure. Renton is starting to understand he can’t carry on like that forever and slowly tries to change his life. But that isn’t so easy when your only friends are still shooting up.
Renton (Ewan McGregor) is our main character, a skinny junkie in Edinburgh. He narrates with his cocky, thick Scottish accent, to give us more insight to his decisions and feelings on drug use. He shows us his friends: Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) and Spud (Ewen Bremner) are fellow addicts. Sick Boy is more of a leader while Spud is a sincerely lost guy, just sticking by his friends. Tommy (Kevin McKidd) starts off as a clean cut guy who chooses working out over drugs, until his girlfriend dumps him. And Bigbie (Robert Carlyle) gets off more on physical violence. It’s amazing how he can carelessly instigating bar fights.
I didn’t expect this film to dabble in surrealism, but some of those moments were the most vivid and memorable. They also help us to understand Renton’s mind under the influence. As he fishes in a nasty toilet of his own fresh feces, we see him climb in and then swim around in crystal blue waters for what he’s looking for. It emphasizes the importance and grandeur of looking for the drugs he just….expelled. It’s a wonderfully gross, yet engrossing scene.
One of my favorite scenes is after Renton’s parents bring him home after an accidental overdose. They lock him in his childhood bedroom to give him time to let the drugs wear off. But this isn’t a simple cleanse, his mind runs wild with hallucinations fueled by his guilt: one of his friends rattling chains against his door, a baby crawling across the ceiling. The whole scene is very intense and unsettling, making us understand Renton’s mental and physical anguish as he the drugs wear off his body.
The correlation between drugs and sex in the film is very interesting. Characters regularly use one for the other to get their chosen highs. For Renton, he goes between the two and he experiences the highs in very different ways. Perhaps some of the characters, particularly Spud, whose girlfriend holds out for fun, choose drugs in place of sex. One without the other seems to work for these guys for the most part. Unfortunately, we see the grim results for those who mingle the two too closely for too long.
Trainspotting seems to be a very under-appreciated film. At the Oscars, it was only nominated for adapted screenplay. Yet, it is currently ranked at #146 on IMDB. This film holds its own against the best picture nominees of 1996, and I can see it trading places with any of them. All the acting is solid and believable and Danny Boyle’s direction holds such a vibrant energy, like smack running through fresh veins.
Trainspotting may not be for everyone. We watch these guys do some hard drugs, nearly waste away into their high energy lifestyle and see some disturbing images that could make the most far gone sober up immediately. For a film fan, it is one to seek out. It’s considered one of the best British films, and I believe it is very accessible for most Americans. This film helped project both Boyle and McGregor into star status. The quick editing, high energy actors, lively sets all just add up to an unforgettable film experience.
“This was to be my final hit, but let’s be clear about this. There’s final hits and final hits. What kind was this to be?”