'Trainspotting' is a movie that I avoided for quite some time due to the fact that its subject matter just did not appeal to me. I mean to say, who wants to watch a movie about a bunch of smack heads? Surely it glorified drug abuse?
I think I caught it one night on Channel 4, when there was nothing else worth watching, so I settled down thinking that I'd find it abhorrent and give up after 20 minutes or so. How wrong I was.
The intelligent, award nominated, witty script adaptation by John Hodge grabbed my attention, pretty much right away. Having grown up in Scotland, I recognised in the main characters the same behaviour that I had seen in some classmates at school or even workmates. You know who you are!
Renton (Ewan McGregor), the 'hero' of the story, with his sharp wit. Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) with his in depth knowledge of the Bond movies starring Sean Connery. Tommy (Kevin McKidd), the athlete who eschews drugs. Begbie (Robert Carlyle), the violent psychopath, who also has nothing to do with drugs but basically just needs putting down like you would a rabid dog. Spud (Ewen Bremner), the thick one who wouldn't harm anyone. We've all seen them before in real life and to have them characterised in a movie meant we could relate to them.
Taken from the novel 'Trainspotting' by Irvine Welsh (who also plays drug dealer Mikey Forrester), the movie takes a gritty, shocking, disgusting but often funny and poignant look at the lives of drug addicts. The title still puzzles many people and while it's clearly explained in the book, it isn't in the film. Suffice to say that drug addicts are just as anal about getting their fix as those lonely characters on the end of railway platforms armed with camera and notebook.
While there's the theme of someone trying to kick their drug habit in 1990's depressed Edinburgh running through the movie, this is really a picture full of standout, memorable scenes.
It didn't occur to me that there could be humour involved in such a film, but the scene with Renton and Sick Boy in the park with an air rifle is hilarious. An unsuspecting skinhead taking some rays with his faithful Pit-bull beside him gets a rude awakening when a pellet finds its target on the dogs gonads and the bewildered, furious animal thinks there's only one person to blame.
Surely the high point of the movie, and the sequence that most people remember, just has to be the one where Renton, having taken a heroin suppository has to make an urgent detour to the loo at the local Bookies. The worst toilet in Scotland is reminiscent of something we've also all encountered at some point in our lives. It's one of those scenes where 'Smell-o-vision' or 'Odourama' would have had people retching in the aisles. The sound of the flies hovering on the rear surrounds is just sheer genius. It's what Dolby Digital or DTS 5.1 was invented for.
It leads to an almost surreal scene where our hero dives down the toilet to recover his undissolved suppositories, portraying the lengths a drug addict will go to in order to get a fix. As he prepares to put his head down the big white (or not so white) telephone, the audience feels its gorge rise.
Another standout scene is where Renton picks up a girl (Kelly MacDonald in her first movie) while leaving a disco, goes back to 'her' place for the night and the following morning as he's having his toast and marmalade, the girl reappears - in school uniform! He realises then that he's having breakfast with the nubile juvenile's parents, not her flatmates. Hilarious.
So, we're made to laugh out loud but then Danny Boyle puts in a scene that makes the smile freeze on our lips, that of the death of the baby in the squat. It's a very clever ploy that makes the scene all the more disturbing.
The cast all turn in first class performances, but head and shoulders above the rest is Robert Carlyle as the violent nutter, Begbie. Nobody plays a tense psycho like Carlyle, whether in this movie or in TV series like 'Taggart'.
Strange then that he did not convey the same evil menace as the Bond baddie Renard in 'The World is not Enough'. Maybe it was because the character was larger than life and Carlyle's character studies of madness are all down to earth.
This movie really provided a springboard for the careers of its main actors. Who'd have believed that Mr McGregor would become the big Hollywood star he is today, back in 1995.
This was the first film I'd ever seen directed by Danny Boyle, now very much in vogue thanks to the success of 'Slumdog Millionaire'. His 'Shallow Grave' left me cold as I just did not connect with it or the principal characters, but 'Trainspotting' has always had some healthy respect from me - probably because there was something I liked or identified with in some of the characters. Not that I've ever done hard drugs myself, but I do rather like that one you put up your nose. What's it called again?
Oh yes - Vick!