The weekly student newspaper of Bucknell University

The Bucknellian

The weekly student newspaper of Bucknell University

The Bucknellian

The weekly student newspaper of Bucknell University

The Bucknellian

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“Trainspotting” Movie Review

“Trainspotting” is regarded as one of the most accurate depictions of Drug Addiction in film history. The undoubtedly controversial film takes an honest view of the lives of young heroin addicts in Scotland. Directed by Danny Boyle, this 1996 masterpiece, based on Irvine Welsh’s acclaimed novel, remains a cultural gem.

“Choose life.” Those are the very first words you’ll hear in “Trainspotting,” the quote you’ll see on “Trainspotting” posters, T-shirts and mugs. It’s funny how the quote dripping in sarcasm became the piece of the film that has broken into popular culture. “Trainspotting” is about the opposite of choosing life. “Trainspotting” is a product of its era, similar to “Fight Club” (1999) and “Reservoir Dogs” (1992). The movie reflects the cynicism that was all the rage among the youth in the 90s. Despite the pleasant popular header, “Trainspotting” is not a happy movie, but boy does Dany Boyle make the unpleasant seriously watchable. 

The film follows a group of heroin addicts living in Edinburgh. Mark Renton, who will do anything, including digging through the nastiest toilet in Scotland in his pursuit of drugs, narrates the film with strong showings from the senseless Spud, the James Bond referencing dogmatic Sick Boy, the sober but psychotic Begbie and ill-fated Tommy.

The motley crew of friends drink, use various drugs and smoke their way through all of Edinburgh’s gritty underbelly, causing mayhem everywhere they go. The characters have family, girlfriends and even a baby, but the only comfort they can find in life is in their vices. The characters are all aware of the effect heroin has on them and try but fail to get clean. Renton, however, after being arrested and then overdosing, does get clean. He leaves Edinburgh for a dull but peaceful life flipping real estate in London.

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All seems well until Spud, Begbie, and Sickboy barge into Renton’s new life (quite literally) in London. The group of friends convinces Renton to partake in a once-in-a-lifetime drug deal that will make them rich; more mayhem naturally ensues. 

“Trainspotting” had a modest budget of 1.5 million pounds, and it shows in the most fantastic way possible. Dany Boyle puts on a masterclass of ingenuous and imaginative filmmaking on a tight budget. Boyle uses creative, almost home video cinematography to demonstrate the highs and lows of drug use. When Renton uses heroin, Boyle brings us along for the ride with his use of surreal imagery and innovative effects. Aesthetic is a word thrown around too often in art today; that being said, “Trainspotting” certainly has a memorable aesthetic despite its humble budget. 

“Trainspotting” also deserves much praise for its iconic soundtrack. Although not featuring Oasis, the film features songs from many of the top British artists of the 80s and 90s, including Blur, Iggy Pop, Pulp, and Underworld. Each track complements and enhances the visuals on screen, creating a powerful auditory experience. The music captures the world where our characters live; you can almost imagine you’re listening to Mark Renton’s personal mixtape. 

The film’s greatest strength is its characters, memorable in their torment but also their humor. “Trainspotting” is an incredibly funny movie about a deeply unfunny subject. This juxtaposition is reflected in our characters; as we watch them self-destruct, you can’t help but laugh at Sick Boy’s obsession with James Bond films or Spud’s attempt to do well, but not so well that he actually gets the position at a job interview. Addicts oftentimes are depicted as the walking dead in art; in reality, however, addiction is a complex issue that affects people from all walks of life; addicts are not solely defined by their addiction. “Trainspotting” presents the characters not as mere caricatures of addiction but, importantly, as full-fledged human beings capable of humor, pain, brilliance, and idiocy.

“Trainspotting” has been a film labeled as one that is both anti-drug and while also glorifying them. In reality, it does neither. It just exists as the raw, unfiltered reality of drug use. The film isn’t saying anything in particular nor should it. “Trainspotting” makes no attempts to preach or moralize drug use, instead opting to present the realities of addiction without judgment. Like drug use, the film places emphasis on the journey you’re taken on rather than the outcome, the friends you make, and the horror you endure; “Trainspotting” has it all.

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