Golden Oldies: Danny Boyle's Trainspotting

In a world where now have two Trainspotting films, Greg Rosenvinge revisits the legendary film instalment. Is it (Princes) streets ahead of its belated sequel, or has it lost its lust for life?

8th May 2017

Trainspotting is many people’s favourite film of the 90s, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s a film that stylistically jolts your senses and lures you into an escapist world not necessarily for us, but for the characters themselves.

Irvine Welsh’s original novel was set in late 1980s working-class Edinburgh, with the evident effects of rampant unemployment that arose during Thatcher’s reign shaping the characters in their anti-establishment attitudes. The iconic ‘Choose life’ scene epitomises, where main character Mark tells the audience he’s gonna be just like you just as he comes into money. The social commentary from this is simple yet cutting: it’s easy to choose life when you have the gift of money, to choose against drug addiction and being apart from society.

This is especially significant when considering how much of the film is framed around Mark’s many attempts to break off his use of heroin, but with each attempt society bites back at him through unemployment, derision and isolation, something of which he cannot cope without the numbing effect of heroin.

“Watching it on the big screen personified how it must have felt seeing it in the 1990s”

Much of Trainspotting rests on this; all of the main characters to differing degrees represent a rebellious attitude to society’s pigeonholing of aspirations and dreams through a neoliberal lens, and that despite the framing of their demographic as lazy and unaspiring, ‘heroin is a full time business’, an occupier of their life in a way the Thatcher agenda did not understand.

Aside from the more thematic successes of Trainspotting, Danny Boyle’s feverish direction, perfectly complimented by a star-studded soundtrack featuring Iggy Pop, Lou Reed and Underwold, perfectly complements the drug-addled narrative, and have a group of characters ever experienced such cult status as a collective than Rent Boy, Spud, Sick Boy, Begbie and Tommy? The fact that their reunion in T2: Trainspotting was feverishly celebrated by not only the youth to which Trainspotting came out to in the 1990s, but also by today’s in near equal fashion, demonstrates just how iconic they were. Whilst Ewan McGregor has enjoyed success since, as well as Robert Carlyle and Jonny Lee Miller in a more muted fashion, Ewen Bremner and Kevin McKidd are still very much seen as Spud and Tommy, such was their characters’ impact.

This was the second time I watched Trainspotting, and it was definitely improved upon watching it on the big screen - it personified (albeit only) slightly how it must’ve felt to cinema-goers back in the 1990s. Whilst I was not privy to the shock of its success, its boldness still strikes me in spite of knowing the expectations beforehand.

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