One of the most influential films in recent memory for the British film industry, skyrocketing the careers of Ewan McGregor and Danny Boyle.
Set in contemporary 1996 Scotland, Trainspotting follows a small group of youths trapped in the grip of heroin abuse. One of them, Mark Renton, looks to better himself but finds the task monumentally difficult, not only because of the addiction but also because of the losers he decided to call friends.
Trainspotting made colossal waves in the mid-1990s. Director Danny Boyle (now famous for Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours) would become a household name in the United Kingdom as one of the great contemporary British directors with this stylish, low-budget black comedy based off of Irvine Welsh’s novel of the same name. Watching it now, over twenty years later, not only do I feel old but Trainspotting is a time capsule; a resoundingly 90s movie!
This is mostly due to Danny Boyle’s music choices, which would become a trademark of his movies (with exceptions like sci-fi flick Sunshine) and here is a tremendous example of his skill at picking and choosing his soundtrack. Perhaps the other nostalgic element, and most famous, is Ewan McGregor’s voice-over “Chose Life”; single-handedly challenging society while also making great observational comedy.
Of course, Trainspotting is also a deeply uncomfortable experience. Much of its fame is controversy; the shiny, bright and well off society of 1990s Britain being shown with drug-addled youths, lost generations and death. All from the perspective of these unhinged people “living life”, a cold contradiction that they and those around them suffer yet they seem casually unfazed by it all. Jovial even!
Indeed, the film goes to some dark places, and all within the first half! Within twenty minutes we have Ewan McGregor on a drug-fueled diarrhea trip, impossibly climbing into a toilet head first to reclaim lost suppositories. What!?!
It feels at times like a British answer to Quentin Tarantino. Irvine Welsh’s writing coming through the screenplay with wit and banter, at times long ranting monologues (one of my favourites coming from Renton while in the middle of a Scottish moor) the film is as quotable and memorable as it is brutal and nihilistic.
Then there is Robert Carlyle as Begbie, the only one who isn’t a drug addict and he is more terrifying than any of them!
Trainspotting is a hard film to like, but an easy film to respect. An absolute must for anyone studying film (its screenplay was nominated for an Academy Award) and film history; it inspired many budding British filmmakers. Personally I can see the demented love, fun and confidence that the cast and crew poured into the film, and while I cannot relate at all, its rebellious and almost perceptive nature makes it rewarding regardless of the dark pit that it resides.