With the upcoming sequel due in a few weeks, Alamo had a screening recently that I wanted to revisit as preparation plus I hadn’t remember watching Trainspotting in years. I did read the book after seeing it at the old Village Four twice. I also found my original review back when Picayune was a physical “magazine.”
Life is a series of choices says the narrator and anti-hero, Mark Renton. And so Renton and his friends have chosen heroin because they only see the futility of “life,” defined as a career with a soul-crushing job, consumerism and watching television. Despite that choice, Renton’s heroin addiction is a love-hate matter. He’s wants to break his addiction but lacks the motivation and ambition because he doesn’t know what he will do if he isn’t a junkie. So he’s constantly pulled back into addiction and the lifestyle that accompanies it; stealing to raise money, lying to everyone, living in squalor (they usually shoot up in Edinburgh’s equivalent of Cabrini Green), bad health, paranoia and AIDS. Heroin isn’t the only substance to get a bad reputation. His associate Begbie comments about how he wouldn’t put any filthy chemicals in his body as he downs his beer and takes a drag on a cigarette. Ironcially, he’s the most emotionally unstable of all the characters since he is constantly starting brawls. Trainspotting is worth every once of hype Miramax put into promoting it. All the fuss people made about it glorifying drug usage is obviously a criticism from people who didn’t watch it. Nothing good comes from heroin as the movie vividly demonstrates—two people die directly or indirectly from drug usage. A more observant person who will (see) how easily and quickly they would all betray each other for personal gain. I don’t want to go on and on saying this movie is absolutely perfect, it has its flaws. The thick Scottish accents and slang are a little intimidating in the first 10 minutes but that cannot be avoided. However, thick, regional accents are acceptable and mandatory when a film has a strong plot and characters accompanying them. Unlike Fargo leaning on its accents for 60 minutes due to the story evaporating. This movie is the true must-see of 1996.
Thankfully, Trainspotting has stood the test of time. The acting and storytelling remain excellent. There are obvious dated elements like the fashion, technology and maybe heroin. I’m 20 years older too so I have no idea which drugs are in vogue but I do remember smack made a huge comeback in the Nineties. The imagery Danny Boyle put into this dreary tale really captured the daily hopelessness, nihilism and despair these young people dealt with…even when some parts were exaggerations; Renton’s withdrawal and near overdose especially. I had forgotten how the second act was more upbeat, namely after Renton had been cleaned up by his parents and he tried to be an adult working in real estate during the London boom. It’s still funny at its key scenes as well, including the stomach-turning ones. This time I was able to avoid the dry heaves during the toilet incident.
Given Boyle’s track record via the movies he made afterwards (Sunshine, 28 Days Later), I honestly think T2 has a decent chance at being a plausibly enjoyable follow up on what has happened to Renton, Begbie, Sick Boy and Spud 20 years later. For me, the main question will be if Begbie and/or Sick Boy try to kill Renton for taking off with the £16,000 at the end of this movie.
Alamo Extras: Thomas the Tank Engine set to music; Music video for UK beer brand; Pee Wee Herman doing a PSA against crack; News story about a pub in Aberdeen, Scotland run by the rudest man alive; UK song about beer; More PSAs against drugs; Dragnet scene of Jack Friday warning about the slippery slope of pot (hilarious since the actor Jack Webb was a drunk); PSA against needle sharing; and Iggy Pop on a TV show lip syncing to “Lust For Life.”