Supertramp’s review published on Letterboxd:
The Timeless film that captured young audiences across the globe. Drug addicts or not, it seems like Trainspotting was the high everybody loved and nobody wanted to come down from.
To think that this movie is just about drugs, and to assume it's not for you based on that, I think you're making a huge mistake. When I first watched "Trainspotting" I didn't completely feel that way, but I figured there would be a disconnect between me and the characters as I had never done hard drugs. However, right off the bat, we're swept up in a synth-pulsing high sped chase and the famous "Choose Life" monologue from our protagonist and narrator, Mark Renton. In this monologue, he mocks an anti-drug ad telling teens to choose life.
"Choose Life, Choose a Family, Choose a career, Choose a washing machine, compact discs and tin can openers. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pissing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked up brats you spawned to replace yourself. Choose a big fucking television! "
Right then and there, I connected. I understood these characters! Seeing this film in High School the fears and pressures of adult life and disappearing into mundanity. These were fears and feelings I very much felt and thoughts that I had held against society. Yes, Heroin is horrible, but the world is filled with much more terrible, vapid, and harmful things that are just as bad, if not worse than drugs. These things that sober people live for are just as artificial and transient as the highs our addicts get. Anyone who was this age, or lived in this environment immediately in the first scene, understand why Mark Renton and his friends resort to drugs. It just goes to show something I strongly believe, and that's good art is universal. No matter who it's about, or where it takes place, there's always something human that we can pick up on.
The tone of this film is just wild, energetic, raw, disgusting, over the top and darkly comedic, but at it's heart is so authentic. These feel like real characters and Boyle's style is so well executed that you understand the intent of each scene. Despite how blasphemous you might think "Trainspotting" is there's excellent filmmaking bursting at the seams clearly stating that Boyle knows what he's doing. It's tough to handle as "Trainspotting" juggles many genres, and tones all through out the film. For the most part, the film is a dark comedy, but on the other hand it gets very grotesque and unsettling as well. There's a certain scene in which I don't want to spoil, but if you've seen this film, you know what I'm talking about. That scene will haunt your nightmares. Many of the dramatic portions of "Trainspotting" are kind of sarcastically swept under the rug by Renton, but luckily the film knows which scenes to do this for, and which scenes to run with and take seriously.
It acheives this tricky tone with lavish cinematography, break-neck editing, and a hot punk and rock, soundtrack that all contribute to the shifting moods of the film and make one of the most unique experiences ever conveyed in cinema. This movie has got everything, comedy, tragedy, satire, vibrant colors, frightening images, surreal images, psychedelic atmosphere, depressing thoughts, humorous snide comments, cynicism, stellar music of variety and above all entertaining characters. All these elements make the whole film so enjoyable, and engaging to watch. Even in it's more difficult parts you can't look away! You have to stay through the entire film and don't want to miss a second of these characters lives! It's so entertaining, yet layered at the same time! Renton's drug trips are sometimes presented as dreamlike and meditative, other times he overdoses and it's disturbing; however, each scene is shot extremely well and are always captivating and enjoyable to watch.
The jokes are dark while others are more subtle quips. I like the moment in the club with Tommy, Spud and their girlfriends "What are two talking about?" "Football. What about you?" "Shopping" that line would sound corny anywhere else, but there's that perfect hint of cynicism played into the dialogue exploiting the fact of how neither couple will tell their significant other what they were really discussing. Many scenes are meant to be funny and satirical, funny and sad, sad and satirical. For instance it is rather tragic that these kids are wasting their lives, intentionally botching job interviews just to find more time to inject, but the presentation of some scenes are so bizarre, and you may not be able to tell what they're going for at first, but you're always engaged and wait until the end to see just where this crazy train is going to go. The film rarely slows down, yet you never feel overwhelmed and have plenty of time to think.
As for characters go I'll have to go with the best performed character in my opinion, Begbie played by Robert Carlysle. This guy is the definition of asshole. I hate him and love him simultaneously. At first I hated him, but it was a fascinating hatred. Then I saw just how much Carlysle was into this character, just how relentessly vengeful and furious he could be and as downright vile of a behavior that is, he just fits perfectly into this high energy, rebellious, foul-natured ride that we're strapped into. It's interesting to see just how Begbie fits in with these younger kids and the role he plays in their lives.
And that's what truly keeps us engaged in this film: the first being the characters, despite not always being likeable, they're strongly developed and even relatable to anyone who was this age. Second: Just the pure level of entertainment value and my far too long analysis/praise on just how fun it is and how greatly it works.
In the same way that we're disgusted with junkies behaviors, they're disgusted with daily behaviors and routines of us. Living a life we hate full of boredom that we hate is something that our crew wants desperately to avoid. Why waste your life being miserable when you could spend it doing whatever you want? Having fun, pursuing pure desire, your initial instinct that makes you feel good. In that sense "Trainspotting" is a good look at hedonism: a philosophy centered around the idea that life should be about pursuing pleasure and living a good life of desire
But as this film has been criticized for, does "Trainspotting" glorify drug use? Yes and No. The film portrays for us what the characters are experiencing from the drugs. And if that experience is a heavenly enlightenment, then that's what we're shown. "Trainspotting" wants us to really get in the heads of our characters. If the film portrays drugs in a positive light, then that's because Renton sees drugs as a positive thing. He has nothing better to live for, and if everything else is an addiction for others, than heroin is his addiction. As Danny Boyle said "This film does not glorify drug use, it glorifies life"
And to think "Trainspotting" is only about drug use limits it's themes. It offers tons of commentary on youth, poverty, and of course life itself. The character of Tommy is dependent on a woman in the same way his friends are dependent upon drugs. Begbie is addicted to anger, violence and is described as "... Not doing drugs, but doing people" referencing how he starts fights with nearly everyone. The film even shows that friends can be an addiction. Renton does not even like his friends that much anymore (the way all the characters feel about the others is usually disrespect against their friends) However, Renton lets them come into his home, ruin his life, cost him his job, just like drugs. Renton laments on this but then finishes by saying "He's a mate, what can you do?" He doesn't even know why he's supposed to be loyal to these douchebags that don't care about him. Strange enough Renton believes he has chosen this life for himself. He hasn't let anyone tell him what to do, but ironically, Begbie controls him like a puppet whether it be through fear or other means, Renton is not choosing for himself, rather he is still a slave to something else. first heroin, now mates. He never questions it, he just accepts that this is what you have to do. They're a mate, right? Who is truly wasting their lives, the junkies, or the sheep?
What becomes funny is how eventually Renton tries to move away from heroin but always comes back to it showing a full attachment cemented. At a nightclub, he tries opiates instead, and believes he's fallen in love with a girl he meets there. Renton finally might have found something to live for. But the next morning, learns that she was still a teenager and is mortified at his actions. She threatens to report him if he stops seeing her, thus throwing Renton back into guilt, depression, nihilism, any negative emotion that makes him want to give up and he's plunged back into the toilets of Edinburgh.
Deep down we see as despicable and misanthropic as Renton can be sometimes, he's still a human being underneath. One of the most powerful emotions to plague and individual in my opinion, is guilt something that effects Renton throughout the entire film. The way he makes his parents feel, or what he does to his friends become heavy burdens on him. Caused by heroin, and also reasons for Renton to take more.
"Trainspotting" is a film that showed me just how universal cinema is and how someone else's experiences can still find some community with mine. Remember "Trainspotting" is not a movie about drugs, it's a movie about life, and that's exactly why "Trainspotting" is one of the greatest films of all time!