With the release of Trainspotting 2, the long-awaited sequel to Danny Boyle’s 1996 black-comedy film, I sat down with Patrick, from The Blog from Another World to discuss Trainspotting.
I read Trainspotting, the book on which the film is based, by Irvine Welsh last year and wrote a review of it here. Overall, the gritty Scottish social realism failed to captivate me, but I appreciated Welsh’s inclusion of Scottish slang and dialect. When I watched the film however, I felt much more engaged.
I asked Patrick if enjoyed watching Trainspotting. He said: “I think that ‘enjoy’ is a difficult term to use to describe this film. I think it’s is a British classic and a milestone for British cinema.”
He continued, “Many films have tried to emulate the anarchic and twisted style of this film (such as Jon S. Baird’s Filth in 2013 – based on another novel by Irvine Welsh) but nobody has ever really come close. I love Danny Boyle’s direction and he makes the film palatable for the audience.”
However, what I found unpalatable in Trainspotting was how every social situation was punctuated by, hard drug use aside, cigarettes and alcohol. Whilst Trainspotting is by no means the only film to feature heavy drinking and smoking, it’s something in film that irritates me every time; excessive consumption makes me feel physically sick. I also found it ironic that the characters who frequently binged on these “socially acceptable” drugs were the same characters berating Renton and his friends for their heroin addictions.
Yet the constant smoking and drinking was certainly not the most shocking part of Trainspotting. To say the film includes crude scenes is an understatement.
“It is a tough film to watch in places, so I understand why people can’t enjoy it for that reason.” Patrick said. However, he argued that these disgusting scenes are purposeful, and contrasted with moments of beauty and perfection.
“For example, when Renton dives down the worst toilet in Scotland, he lands in clear, serene water – brilliant juxtaposition; I really admire the sheer invention of it.”
Speaking of whom, Ewan McGregor’s Renton was my favourite character in Trainspotting: the protagonist and heroin addict, who provides a voice of relative reason and is capable of blending into “normal” society.
Renton is the central narrator of the film, which made the plot easier to follow and helped me put names to faces. It was also a nice change from the book, which frequently changed between different narrative perspectives, making for tough reading. The fact Renton’s narration helped me understand the plot better made me appreciate the voice-overs – a technique I normally dislike within film – and I thought they matched the style of Trainspotting well.
Patrick’s favourite character was Francis Begbie, a psychopath with violent tendencies, played by Robert Carlyle.
“Carlyle gives such a ferocious and frightening portrayal of a psychopath” he said.
“I can’t help but feel that Heath Ledger’s Joker and Andrew Scott’s Moriarty share DNA with Begbie’s pint-glass-throwing-chaos. True, Renton, Spud and Sick Boy are iconic characters, but Begbie is the character who sticks in my mind.
When Begbie starts a fight at the pub, it’s horrible. His callous violent bloodlust is frightening and his whim to have a fight is portrayed excellently.”
Patrick described to me another memorable Trainspotting scene, where Renton is forced by his parents to give up his heroin use, going through withdrawal symptoms, including vivid hallucinations. “It’s a horrific and surreal scene.” Patrick said, and I have to agree. McGregor’s acting here was fantastic; his screams really emphasised the suffering he was going through, and it was conflicting to watch.
Personally, I found the scene where Allison’s baby dies unsurprising but incredibly emotional. Allison, played by Susan Vidler, had an incredibly blasé attitude to drugs and promiscuous sex, resulting in a neglected baby surrounded by drugs and filth. When baby Dawn, inevitably died from poor health and neglect, it was such a raw and emotional scene – I could really sense Allison’s pain. However, what disturbed and angered me was that although Allison was in such pain, she still turned back to drugs – highlighting the vicious and destructive cycle of drug addiction.
It is scenes such as these that give Trainspotting a much darker tone, to juxtapose with its comedic elements.
Patrick said, “I think Trainspotting’s tone is very complex. It’s a film which is hyperactive but sombre, crass but frightening. The tone works because it’s about the ‘highs and lows’ of drug addiction; the tone wildly fluctuates to expertly capture and reflect what life is like for a heroin addict.”
“Many drugs films such as Requiem For A Dream (Darren Aronofsky, 2000) show only the horrific parts of drug addiction. Trainspotting is the best portrayal of addiction since The Lost Weekend (Billy Wilder, 1945). It gives a balanced but unflinching view of addiction – it’s as euphoric as it is disgusting. It is better to understand what drugs give you, before you see what they take away.”
Trainspotting 2 was released today in the UK, and will be released in March in the USA.
Thank you for reading!
– Judith and Patrick