Tuesday, 6 December 2011
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Robert Carlyle, Jonny Lee Miller, Kevin McKidd
By Alan Bacchus
Watching Trainspotting for the first time in the mid-‘90s on a big screen in the theatre was a great blood-pumping cinematic experience. Irvine Welsh’s incredibly frank episodic tale of 1980s heroin culture in Glasgow, Scotland under the ultra-hip flashy direction of Danny Boyle became an instant pop-culture sensation. At least it did for my generation. As a 20-year-old university student this film, as intended by the filmmakers, hit me squarely on the head. It didn’t take long before the walls of my student house were adorned with posters from the movie. The same goes for the soundtrack, which summarized 20 years of Brit-pop drug music in one perfectly curated CD.
Years later, the iconography of the film, the genuine warmth of the characters and the authentic underground British flavour feels just as it did 16 years ago. That said, the stylish flourishes show their age as victims of the cinematic hip Pulp Fiction-influenced era of pop culture self-awareness. This film might have been eaten alive in this day and age, but thankfully it was made in the 1990s when it felt fresh, original and innovative.
Boyle and his team – the same group of lads who made the wonderful Shallow Grave a couple years before (writer John Hodge, producer Andrew MacDonald and star Ewan McGregor) – execute Welsh’s novel as a series of impeccably crafted set pieces or vignettes fused together by McGregor’s verbose, proselytizing voiceover. Opening with a raucous street chase from the middle of the film signals a fetish of Boyle’s we’ll see in his later films (see the opening running chases in Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours). Then Boyle introduces us to his lead characters in Sam Peckinpah-fashion with cool freeze frames set to Iggy Pop’s Lust For Life.
As usual, Boyle’s camera rockets around the characters, which is fuel for a remarkably fast-paced 96 minutes that rarely slow down. The scant story centres on Renton (McGregor), a respectable heroin junkie who, instead of choosing the life journey expected of him, chooses heroin, a drug which he freely admits is like an orgasm times a thousand (“and you’re still nowhere near it”). Key to Renton’s journey are the positive and negative effects of his ‘so-called’ friends: Spud (Bremner), a ne’er-do-well who is just too naïve to make any hard decisions of his own; Sick Boy (Miller), the suave best friend and Sean Connery fan who seems to be in control of his addiction; Tommy (McKidd), the honest one of the bunch who doesn’t do the skag; and Begbie (Carlyle), an alcoholic Scottish hooligan exemplified. As Renton goes through the cycle of addiction and recovery, it becomes clear that his friends are the biggest hurdle to clean living. But the bonds are difficult to break without severing ties completely with his former life.
However, no ‘synopsis’ could do justice to the delirious and ambling nature of this dark slice of life. Boyle and company put the audience through the absolute dreck of Scottish seediness – far and away from any semblance of Old World charm. And miraculously, by exposing this darkest and ugliest part of oneself, Boyle brings out the most warm and honest working class humour we see on BBC Britcoms.
While the visual stylishness seems less inventive and invigorating all these years later, the humour and affable characters of Trainspotting are as fresh, delightful and endearing as they were then.