reviews

Essential Film Review: Trainspotting

Published by the Strathclyde Telegraph.

Sugar and Salt (2)

‘Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career.’ Choose watching Trainspotting religiously until you can rhyme off their entire iconic opening monologue on command.

Adapted from Irvine Welsh’s novel of the same name, written in the dialect of Leith, Edinburgh, Trainspotting is a cult classic film that has been picked up by every generation of teenager since its release in 1996; encouraging viewers to have a long and sobering think about their own life choices as they watch in horror, trembling with the ‘jake shakes’ on hungover Sunday mornings.

Since Welsh’s novel is more of a plethora of loosely connected episodes involving a group of drug addicts and degenerates in late ‘80s-early ‘90s Edinburgh – as opposed to a fleshed-out, ‘beginning, middle and end’ story – director Danny Boyle had his work cut out as he essentially constructed the plot for Trainspotting; picking the most prominent of the various narrators from the novel Mark Renton (played by Ewan McGregor) as the film’s protagonist and heroin-addict anti-hero.

Alongside some of the film’s best features including: the superb soundtrack which perfectly encapsulates ‘90s drug and rave subculture with hits from Faithless, Underworld and Iggy Pop; and some of Scotland’s greatest acting talent including Robert Carlyle as the pint-sized psycho Francis ‘Franco’ Begbie and Kelly Macdonald as the articulate, too-grown-up-for-her-age Diane – what also makes Trainspotting great is the narration.

A technique that Boyle borrowed from legendary director Martin Scorsese in GoodFellas, Trainspotting is narrated throughout by Renton, an intelligent and articulate Edinburgh scamp who, in the midst of mass unemployment and cultural boredom, turned to drugs and asked: “And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin?”

While you’d expect heavy narration in a movie to be a bit of an adaptation-hangover from the novel, Boyle expertly strikes a balance of just enough voice over to inform the viewer, deepen characterisation and keep things interesting but not too much that it draws attention away from the hilarious and, paradoxically, harrowing plots and sub-plots of the film.

Unsurprisingly, with horrific scenes including the death of neglected baby Dawn and explicit, graphic scenes of intravenous drug use, Trainspotting received a lot of stick upon its release, and continues to today, for its shocking, violent and disturbing content. But while critics will slam Trainspotting and brand it as a ‘pro-drug movie’, on the contrary, many believe that Trainspotting is in fact one of the best anti-drug films ever made as its brutal, frightening and gritty portrayal of what it’s like to be a heroin addict certainly isn’t shown through rose-tinted spectacles. Trainspotting may be gruesome but, due to the subject matter, that’s the way it has to be.

Throughout all the drugs, crime, sex, violence and debauchery, Trainspotting is a raw, unapologetic, generational film with outstanding performances, an iconic colourful vocabulary and cultural resonance that has been imprinted onto Scotland’s national identity and pop culture. Despite what the critics and prudes may say, Trainspotting is definitely an essential film.


What do you think of Trainspotting? Let me know in the comment section below.

Featured image created using Canva.

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2 thoughts on “Essential Film Review: Trainspotting

  1. This is one of the few films where I have loved the book and yet still love the film adaptation. While the fragmentation of the novel was highly effective, Boyle’s creation of narrative cohesion in the film is likewise effective.

    Liked by 1 person

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