Film: Trainspotting

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Film:

Trainspotting

Director: Danny Boyle
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Distributor: Miramax Home Entertainment

With its hallucinatory visions of crawling dead babies and a grungy plunge into the filthiest toilet in Scotland, you might not think Trainspotting could have been one of the best movies of 1996, but Danny Boyle’s film about unrepentant heroin addicts in Edinburgh is all that and more. That doesn’t make it everybody’s cup of tea (so unsuspecting viewers beware), but the film’s blend of hyperkinetic humor and real-life horror is constantly fascinating, and the entire cast (led by Ewan McGregor and Full Monty star Robert Carlyle) bursts off of the…

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With its hallucinatory visions of crawling dead babies and a grungy plunge into the filthiest toilet in Scotland, you might not think Trainspotting could have been one of the best movies of 1996, but Danny Boyle’s film about unrepentant heroin addicts in Edinburgh is all that and more. That doesn’t make it everybody’s cup of tea (so unsuspecting viewers beware), but the film’s blend of hyperkinetic humor and real-life horror is constantly fascinating, and the entire cast (led by Ewan McGregor and Full Monty star Robert Carlyle) bursts off of the screen in a supernova of outrageous energy. Adapted by John Hodge from the acclaimed novel by Irving Welsh, the film was a phenomenal hit in England, Scotland, and (to a lesser extent) the U.S. For all of its comedic vitality and invigorating filmmaking, the movie is no ode to heroin, nor is it a straight-laced cautionary tale. Trainspotting is just a very honest and well-made film about the nature of addiction, and it doesn’t pull any punches when it is time to show the alternating pleasure and pain of substance abuse. —Jeff Shannon

The film that effectively launched the star careers of Robert Carlyle, Ewan McGregor and Jonny Lee Miller is a hard, barbed picaresque, culled from the bestseller by Irvine Welsh and thrown down against the heroin hinterlands of Edinburgh. Directed with abandon by Danny Boyle, Trainspotting conspires to be at once a hip youth flick and a grim cautionary fable. Released on an unsuspecting public in 1996, the picture struck a chord with audiences worldwide and became adopted as an instant symbol of a booming British rave culture (an irony, given the characters’ main drug of choice is heroin not ecstasy).

McGregor, Lee Miller and Ewen Bremner play a slouching trio of Scottish junkies; Carlyle their narcotic-eschewing but hard-drinking and generally psychotic mate Begbie. In Boyle’s hands, their lives unfold in a rush of euphoric highs, blow-out overdoses and agonising withdrawals (all cued to a vogueish pop soundtrack). Throughout it all, John Hodge’s screenplay strikes a delicate balance between acknowledging the inherent pleasures of drug use and spotlighting its eventual consequences. In Trainspotting’s world view, it all comes down to a question of choices—between the dangerous Day-Glo highs of the addict and the grey, grinding consumerism of the everyday Joe. “Choose life”, quips the film’s narrator (McGregor) in a monologue that was to become a mantra. “Choose a job, choose a starter home…But why would anyone want to do a thing like that?” Ultimately, Trainspotting’s wised-up, dead-beat inhabitants reject mainstream society in favour of a headlong rush to destruction. It makes for an exhilarating, energised and frequently terrifying trip that blazes with more energy and passion than a thousand more ostensibly life-embracing movies. —Xan Brooks

Related Works

Book:Trainspotting

Trainspotting

Irvine Welsh

Trainspotting is the novel that first launched Irvine Welsh’s spectacular career—an authentic, unrelenting, and strangely exhilarating episodic group portrait of blasted lives. It accomplished for its own time and place what Hubert Selby, Jr.’s Last Exit to Brooklyn did for his. Rents, Sick Boy, Mother Superior, Swanney, Spuds, and Seeker are as unforgettable a clutch of junkies, rude boys, and psychos as readers will ever encounter. Trainspotting was made into the 1996 cult film starring Ewan MacGregor and directed by Danny Boyle (A Shallow Grave).

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