Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose to revisit Danny Boyle’s junkie classic before T2 hits cinemas this month.
Twenty-something year old Renton (Ewan McGregor) decides it’s time to kick his addiction to heroin and pull himself out of the bowels of the reprehensible Edinburgh drug scene. Redemption is far easier said than done, especially with amoral friends like Renton’s: con artist Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), dimwit Spud (Ewen Bremner), athlete Tommy (Kevin McKidd) and violent psychopath Begbie (Robert Carlyle). The ruthlessness of reality and lingering allure of smack push Renton back into his old habits, and force him to confront all the predicaments and pandemonium that come with them.
Describing Trainspotting to someone unaware of its colossal impact and legacy is a challenge; “the everyday lives of a bunch of loser junkies” hardly sounds like the makings of a British classic. And yet it rattled the integrity of Hollywood storytelling, propelled Ewan McGregor to the A-list and gave a shot in the arm to the career of now Oscar-winner Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours). How? Well, Trainspotting is probably better described as a hilarious, shocking, breathtaking slice of life. It’s a lethal shot of charm and despair, a seductive and repulsive head-trip through Irvine Welsh’s twisted world-view; a void trapped somewhere between a laugh and a scream.
Trainspotting boldly opens with one of the single most disgusting scenes in the history of film. Renton quits heroin cold turkey, though “cold turkey” to someone as hooked as him involves sticking opium suppositories up his behind to ease the transition. This inconveniently loosens his bowels, the contents of which he’s soon forced to empty in the “Worst Toilet in Scotland”. Then, so desperate for his fix, Renton does the unthinkable and dives headfirst into this hole of horrors to retrieve the opium lost in his excretion. It’s sickeningly surreal, equal parts hilarious and horrifying, and impossible to look away from despite how nausea-inducing it is. It sets the tone for film and the many highs and lows to come in the chaotic disorder that is the everyday lives of a bunch of loser junkies.
And highs and lows is what Trainspotting is all about. Not just the high of the drug and low of the comedown, but thine highs and lows of life, of youth in particular; the high of living carefree and the low of accepting responsibility. Boyle uses this up and down to great effect as his narrative structure too, keeping great momentum in the unpredictable rollercoaster of impulsive behaviour.
Trainspotting has withstood the test of time better than just about any youth-oriented film of its era. The subject may be sickening, but the magnetic characters, rollicking soundtrack, belly laughs and unforgettable images surrounding it are anything but. And with Boyle and co. returning to their roots this month with a long awaited sequel, there’s no better time to choose Trainspotting.
Image courtesy of Polygram Filmed Entertainment