Combustible Celluloid
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With: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Kevin McKidd, Robert Carlyle, Kelly Macdonald, Peter Mullan, James Cosmo, Eileen Nicholas, Susan Vidler, Pauline Lynch, Shirley Henderson, Stuart McQuarrie, Irvine Welsh
Written by: John Hodge, based on the novel by Irvine Welsh
Directed by: Danny Boyle
MPAA Rating: R for graphic heroin use and resulting depravity, strong language, sex, nudity and some violence
Running Time: 94
Date: 02/22/1996

Trainspotting (1996)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Sick Boys

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

When I was 16 or 17, I loved the film A Clockwork Orange. I still love it, but not anymore as a fun and comical romp through a sadistic wasteland. Now the violence in the film leaves me quiet instead of laughing. I imagine Trainspotting will have the same effect on youth today. Especially because the film is far more entertaining than anything else playing in the multiplexes right now (except maybe Supercop).

It is entertaining, which is a challenge for a film that wishes to paint a bleak portrait. It is a challenge that Schindler's List faced and pulled off, as well as A Clockwork Orange. Trainspotting gets the point across. There are a couple of scenes in this film that say more about drug use than anything I've ever seen. (If you haven't seen the film and don't want to know, don't read any further.) One is a detox scene in which Mark, our lead character, is in his bedroom, having a surreal nightmare as his system screams in pain. Another is a scene in which the junkies are laying around in their pleasure den (called the shooting gallery), only to be awakened by the screams of the girl who lives there. They soon realize that the girl's baby has died in its crib. The camera slowly pans across the baby's corpse. It is one of the most harrowing, graphic and utterly terrible images I have ever seen. The junkies, too, are horrified. They go right back for a fresh shot of smack.

While drugs are a major motif in the film, it is ultimately about not fitting in, which is probably why it has become such a hit with young people. The characters don't seem to belong anywhere. When Mark gets a job in London, it's only so long before he inevitably loses it, and gets back into the bad life again. Also, just being Scottish is enough to make one feel like an outsider. There's only one scene where this is mentioned, and it's something that Americans may not understand. But young adults today know what it's like to be left out, and they can identify, no matter what the country.

Nonetheless, the outsiders in this film are likable. With names like Sick Boy and Spud, we really grow to like them. Or at least we become interested in their fates. This film is similar to Sid & Nancy, in which we were mesmerized by the downward spiral of the two rock stars, people we could never know or touch. The little scumbags in Trainspotting are a little more approachable; they could be next door neighbors. It is not so painful to watch them, because they are very aware of how disgusting they are. They are junkies because they rationalize that it is better to be a junkie than to deal with life. When you're on junk, Mark tells us, the only thing you have to worry about is scoring. When you're not on junk, there's girls, money; all kinds of things to deal with. These kids are smart, and they have made what they feel is a wise decision.

So we laugh when they blatantly walk into an old folks home and steal the television set to score money for heroin. We laugh as Mark pulls a practical joke on his friend by stealing his tape of him having sex with his girl. We laugh when Mark wakes up in a strange house, only to find that he's slept with an underage schoolgirl. But mostly we laugh at the brilliant dialogue, from the novel by Irvine Welsh and written for the screen by John Hodge, who also wrote 1994's Shallow Grave. The film is directed by Danny Boyle, who directed Shallow Grave. Both films have a wild cinematic style that suggests a lust for the new, the different. While Shallow Grave suggested an homage to Hitchcock and Tarantino, Trainspotting is a fresh and original looking film. Some of its poetic and disturbing images made me think of Bergman. The vibrant, almost psychedelic colors and pounding soundtrack give the film a life that has been sapped out of other films in the Hollywood system.

Trainspotting is hilarious, dynamic, fearless, and can be difficult to watch at times. It may not be appropriate for multiple viewings, but it is a film for the ages. It is one of 1996's very best.

Called "the definitive edition," the 2004 DVD -- released in conjunction with Miramax's anniversary -- contains the "uncut, international" version of the film. I haven't seen any other DVD release, and it has been eight years since I've seen the film at all, so I can't say what the differences are, but the film is as spectacular and revolting has it always was. Word is that the new two-disc set vastly improves on the old, Region 1 disc in both sharpness and color as well as aspect ratio. It comes with several featurettes, commentary track, deleted scenes, interviews, biographies, trailers and an optional French language track. The picture is mastered in 1-to-1.85 widescreen and comes with both 5.1 Dolby Surround and DTS tracks.

In 2011, Lionsgate released a Blu-Ray edition, which has all the extras of the old Miramax DVD, starting with a commentary track by director Danny Boyle, star Ewan McGregor, screenwriter John Hodge, and producer Andrew Macdonald. After that, we have deleted scenes, a making-of featurette, other featurettes, interviews from Cannes, a photo gallery, and trailers. A second disc includes a digital copy of the film.

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