Sunday, 13 May 2012

Movie review: Trainspotting

"Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a f**king big television, choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol, and dental insurance. Choose fixed interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisurewear and matching luggage. Choose a three-piece suit on hire purchase in a range of f**king fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the f**k you are on Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing f**king junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pissing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, f**ked up brats you spawned to replace yourselves. Choose your future. Choose life... But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life. I chose somethin' else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you've got heroin?"

That is the quote that immediately sets this film in motion and lets the audience know what to expect.

The first time I watched Trainspotting was on a recommendation from a friend, before which I had never heard of it. I had no idea going as to what the plot would be, eventually deciding that it must deal with someone with the “Trainspotting” hobby but as I quickly found out about this genius, hilarious film that takes an unflinching look at the life of heroin addicts in Edinburgh it had about as much in common with trainspotting as TV talent shows have in common with talent.

There are very few films like ‘Trainspotting’, films that can so effortlessly skip along the line between imagination and madness, it takes the audience on a journey of epic highs and crushing lows grounded in an astonishingly vivid yet realistic human struggle with drugs. The film never takes itself too seriously, not even for a second, which is explicitly evident during particularly zany moments occurring during the high phase of the characters. It’s surprising to look back upon these surreal moments and realise how heavily they’ve impacted pop culture and integrated into the mainstream consciousness since the film’s release.

"The worst toilet in the World"

The story takes place in Edinburgh in the mid 1980s and follows Mark Renton, a heroin addict who spends his days getting high with his friends: Spud, a ingenuous good natured young man and Sick Boy, an unprincipled con artist with sociopathic tendencies. During their time at bars drinking heavily they meet up with the remaining members of their group including Tommy, a clean living sportsman and Begbie, an often-violent psychopath who drinks too much and constantly abuses his companions. When the group’s antics land them in trouble Mark narrowly avoids a jail sentence and with the support of his parents gets clean from heroin. Eyeing a successful career in London Mark moves to the city and starts his life anew, however his past soon catches up with him and forces its way back into his life.

(From left to right) Sick Boy, Renton, Tommy and Spud.

Kelly Macdonald marks her film debut with 'Trainspotting' and she certainly leaves her mark on the film, playing 14 year old schoolgirl Diane. Macdonald enters the picture as a woman Renton meets at a club and spends the night with, in the morning finding out her age. Macdonald does well to play the character so naturally that Renton (and the audience) never imagine that she could be underage resulting in the reveal being just as shocking to the audience as it is to Renton. Although not given a large role, Macdonald nevertheless shows her potential by keeping her own with the very gifted Ewan McGregor.

The talented Danny Boyle, a man who has perfected his style of letting the film’s characters naturally resonate emotionally with the audience, flawlessly directs the surreal humour of the film in contrast to the harsh backdrop it presents. The characters have their own unique sensibilities and quirks yet whilst watching you never feel disconnected, there's always a part of you that is convinced people like this do exist, in some cases you may even know them and that is the key to the nuance of Boyle's directing. 

A major theme of the film is that of corruption and the degradation of one's principles. All the characters of the film are corrupted in some fashion, Renton has been corrupted from a loved son into a drug addict, Spud has been corrupted from a kind hearted young man into a criminal, even Diane shows corruption through her illicit encounters with men such as Renton. The clearest example however lies with Tommy, being an athlete in a stable relationship at the beginning of the film, Tommy is the only character in the who has his life together, Renton says himself that Tommy was so clean-cut that "He never told lies, he never took drugs and he never cheated on anyone", so when Tommy becomes addicted to heroin it shows that despite his morals, Tommy's relationship with the film’s damaged characters broke him down until he was even worse off than they were. The reason and blame for Tommy's fall and his subsequent death ultimately lies with Renton who unknowingly who set into motion the events that would destroy Tommy's relationship, and his life by borrowing an intimate videotape. Tommy's death comes at a point where Renton has become sober, allowing him to see how his friends death could have so easily been his own, it is clear he feels responsible for his friends demise.

They're not exactly The Beatles but at least they're trying.

A powerful scene in the film concerns the death from neglect of the baby frequently present during their drug taking. The boys arrive one day to find their fellow addict Allison screaming hysterically and upon entering the baby's room they find the corpse lying in a cot. The entire group is horrified and Renton's only method for coping is to dull his senses using heroin, Sick Boy, who does not partake, is shaken to his core, the look in his eye reflects the pain in his heart as Renton's narration hints that the baby was his. The loss of innocence for Sick Boy is a turning point in the film as the group result to more desperate measures to secure their high with Sick Boy in particular losing a part of his humanity and playfulness with life.

Acting is the crux of any film no matter the effects involved or the quality of the script; luckily for 'Trainspotting' there are great performances across the board from the film's cast. Ewen McGregor is very impressive in the role of Mark Renton and embodies the character with some qualities that endear him to the audience and some that utterly repulse them. The charismatic Jonny Lee Miller proves very capable in playing the multi-faceted character Sick Boy, the role demands a lot of the actor due to his place in the story, Miller made me change my opinion of Sick Boy several times throughout the film, an achievement accomplishable only by the finest of actors. Though brilliant performances are seen throughout, Robert Carlyle undoubtedly steals the show as Begbie, his portrayal is staggeringly visceral as the unpredictable and psychopathic Scotsman. Begbie seems to live his life from brawl to brawl, in one instance his fierce tempered explodes resulting in his vicious beating of man in a London bar over an accidental spillage of a drink. Watching the film the audience always has the tense feeling of having no idea what Begbie will do or how he will react to any given situation, in every scene involving him all eyes are on Begbie. Robert Carlyle has stated that he played the character as a closeted gay which lends some answers as to why Begbie acts the way he does including during his unknowing encounter with a transvestite and his frequent claims that he's "not a f**king buftie".

The last thing you want to do is upset this psycho.

'Trainspotting' truly is a masterpiece of Indie cinema; it is proof that a film in this genre can be executed with depth without being clouded in pretension or cynicism. Ultimately though 'Trainspotting is a film that speaks to everyone who sees it and will certainly leave an impression upon the viewer that will last much longer than its 90 minute runtime.  

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