Flashback Review: Trainspotting

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Choose life. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose 1993. Irvine Welsh’s novel was filling the bookshelves of Britain during 1993 and found its way into the hands of producer Andrew Macdonald. Inspired by its vibrancy and visceral heightened realism, he forwarded the book to his Shallow Grave collaborators, John Hodge and the now Oscar winning British treasure Danny Boyle. Boyle saw the film’s potential and Hodge began on the script.

Choose 1996. The film was ready to take cinema by storm with the full force of a car bonnet accompanied by the peppy drum beat of Iggy Pop’s Lust For Life. Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers. Choose 20 years later, Choose Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and waiting on Renton, Begbie, Spud and Sick boy to grace our screens once more. Choose the perfect excuse to go back to the original. Choose Trainspotting.

The 1990s was a mesmerising decade of cinema, boasting the pinnacle of independent film production in the US, introducing pioneers like Rodriguez, Tarantino, Smith and Linklater to name a few. Interest for smaller films were at a high and a desire for inventive cinema was peaking. Enter Trainspotting, a film revolving around a group of colourful Scottish youths struggling to come to terms with what is expected of them and the difference between reality and drug infused fantasy.

Thrown deep into the depths of the worst toilet in Scotland, Trainspotting invites us to experience the lows and, controversially, the highs of heroin addiction; exposing its reality transcending capabilities as well as its destructive consequences. Despite this, Trainspotting isn’t a film about heroin, nor is it a film about addiction. Trainspotting is a film about coming to terms with the realities of life, it’s about people exploring who they are and their place in the world and generally what it means to be alive. The film’s glory is that these concepts are not presented with even a note of pretention but instead conveyed with wit, energy and kinetic style.

It is a true landmark of British cinema and a pop-culture masterpiece. Boyle’s direction is endlessly imaginative, unlocking the dark imagery of Renton’s intoxicated fantasies whilst balancing a sense of bleak realism to both heighten the film’s visual lure whilst maintaining a harrowing social commentary of Scotland in the late 20th century. The script by Hodge is always full of humour with no reluctance to delve into the darkest of drama, exploring its characters in depth of their peculiarities for which they are loved in a masterful balance of the novel’s multiple narrator approach. It is impossible to discuss Trainspotting without mention of its iconic soundtrack. Forming a collection of indie rock, 80’s club hits and acid pop which ranges from Lou Reed to New Order with additions of Blur, Pulp and Underworld, the soundtrack, like the film, reflects the feeling of youthfulness and self expression; almost like a playlist selected by Renton himself to drown out the mundanity of his real life.

Like a trip in itself, the film’s subjective approach immerses you in the world at the end of the needle. Through an extensive array of surrealist imagery which disturbs the very core of human imagination, Trainspotting provides a nightmarish injection of realist horror which pushes the human mind and experience.

Trainspotting is arguably the British film of its era, reflecting the universal feelings of the ordinary and a common desire for something more. Pitting reality against the bliss of ignorant escape, the film forms an existential commentary of a generation, celebrating experimentation but condemning the dark sides of youth culture to a satisfying degree. Ultimately, Trainspotting is a rebellion of expectation and the concept of normal; a war cry to be who you want to be regardless of society. It mocks the everyday, offering an exciting underground lifestyle which is unappealing enough to be anti-drug but humble enough to be pro-character. It encourages to ‘choose life’ but to not get caught up in its conventions. But overall it is Trainspotting‘s innovation and unparalleled energy which defines it as one of the best British films of all time. Choose life. Choose Trainspotting.

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Second year Film student. Twentieth year Film lover.

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