By Tony Schwab
It would be silly to deny that “Trainspotting” glamorizes drug addiction. Except for a few scenes where the characters are really shown to be miserable as a result of using heroin, the movie basically views them as lovable rebels. This somewhat questionable attitude does not stop the movie from being great. It puts it in a pantheon of movies that make their druggy characters into heroes, in the company of “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “The Big Lewbowski” and “Drugstore Cowboys.”
The mood is set in the famous opening scenes. Renton, played by Ewan McGregor, and his friends are running from the police while Lust For Life by Iggy Pop plays. Renton talks about the life he is running away from. He makes fun of the people who are content with a quiet, middle class life.
From here we see the day to day lives of the characters. They do heroin, hang around the city, play pool and go to nightclubs. Everything except the heroin scenes could be taken from a much more normal comedy. The characters are made to pretty sympathetic. There is no reason to think that the viewer is not meant to side with the characters in the film. Every time we see a character with a steady job, they are shown to be stuffy and boring. The movie delights in the moments when Renton and his friends rip off the system. In one scene the characters come up with ways of staying on government support without getting jobs. In several other’s the characters rob to support their habits.
Danny Boyle, who since “Trainspotting” has sought more respectable work, is brilliant in his direction. He has a great time shooting the squalid surroundings of the characters. He is also great at the more showy scenes, like the ones in which Renton overdoses and goes through withdrawals.
The soundtrack is brilliant. The mix of rock and electronic does a great job of matching the characters state of mind. “Perfect Day” by Lou Reed is heartbreaking when Renton is taken to the hospital. Born Slippy by Underworld captures the optimistic longing of Renton as the film ends perfectly. The soundtrack seems so in sync with the film partially because music has a willingness to celebrate the addict lifestyle that film has tended to shy away from.
If we reject the attitude of the film, it may seem weird to enjoy it so much. What makes the film work anyway is that it is ultimately not an examination of drug addiction or a statement about society, but an escapist piece. It lets the viewer imagine a world where theft, addiction and listlessness can all be experienced with no lasting consequences. Some might say that this is irresponsible, but it is really no more so than a superhero movie.
Tony Schwab is a Highlighter Staff Columnist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org