Trainspotting: It’s Shite Being Scottish

Danny Boyle’s cult classic is a wild trip through the bleak elements of the Scottish working class, following Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) and his endeavour to kick his heroin addiction to the curb, and how it tests his relationship with his family and friends, including: Sick Boy (Johnny Lee Miller), dimwit Spud (Ewen Brumner), crazy Begbie (Robert Carlyle), fourteen year-old Diane (Kelly Macdonald), and athlete Tommy (Kevin McKidd), who’s T-Total but can’t help but feel curious about drugs and their effects.

Trainspotting is dirty and vulgar but so good. The content is unpleasant, regardless of the copious amounts swearing, violence and other things. In a film about hard drug culture in Scotland, what else could one expect? Well, it’s about more than that, and the underlying theme is the right to choose. “Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, choose washing machines…Choose life…Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin?” says Rentboy (McGregor) as narrator.

The original gang boozing it up together in Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting
(Trainspotting, Mirimax)

Never at a single point in this film does Danny Boyle glamorize drugs or make them look attractive and appealing in any way. For any person who thinks the swearing in this movie is excessive, they clearly have never spent more than twenty-four hours in Britain, not just Scotland. As a Brit who was born and raised in Britain, I can say the language in Trainspotting is an accurate account of the discourse in the British Isles. This feature is a prime example of the potential of the British film industry and our limitless ability to tell original stories, take note Hollywood.

While the style is typical Boyle – very funny and unreal, the characters in the story are all too real. Characters like the mad alcoholic Begbie, played by Rob Carlyle (Once Upon A Time) is a supporting character that adds some emotional depth to the film. He’s an everyday man who have all met at some point in our lives, a man who has nothing to lose with no fear of the consequences that occur with his alcohol-induced actions. Begbie isn’t involved in the drug scene but his opposition is comical because he seems worse than the characters who are doped up on heroin. This is black comedy done right.

Mad Dog Begbie (Carlyle) and Sick Boy (Johnny Lee Miller) in Trainspotting
(Trainspotting, Mirimax)

What is actually happening in the film isn’t funny, but watching it unravel is amusing in a sadistic sort of way, hence black comedy and that’s the film’s tone, as our protagonists talk gibberish and watch their lives sail by: pubbing it up, shagging anything that moves and injecting anything that ends with ine. By the end of the film, they see times are changing and Renton (McGregor) has to make a choice between himself or his friends. McGregor (American Pastoral) gives a great performance and it seems to me that he hasn’t aged in twenty years. Johnny Lee Miller (Elementary) is excellent as well, playing the thought-provoking Sick Boy. Ewen Bremner provided comic relief and Carlyle is outstanding as Begbie.

Time and time again, this picture has been accused of condoning drug use but I think anyone who says that  has simply not watched the film properly. The black comedy is matched by equally nasty images, including ones of Renton in rehab. In essence, it’s black comedy meets social criticism. Retrospectively, I think those who saw the movie in 1996 can argue this point. Since I was born the year before, I’m hardly in any position to critique this film from a 90s perspective. As a viewer watching it twenty years later, to me, it is social criticism meets black comedy.

Renton’s fourteen year old girlfriend Diane (Kelly Macdonald) in Trainspotting
(Trainspotting, Mirimax)

The story is told by Renton, through frequent narrations, making it extremely engaging to watch. It’s irresistible, exciting and the film is worthy of all praise. With its excellent performances, brutal themes and fast-forward direction (much of the time), twenty years later Trainspotting is still worthy of its cult classic label.

Trainspotting to the 1990s is what a Filth/Inbetweeners hybrid would look like in the 2010s