Trainspotting (Danny Boyle, 1996)

“Choose life… But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life. I chose somethin’ else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin?”


I didnt see this film for ages. Released in 1996, I don’t think I watched it until 2003 or 2004. Embarrassing. Then again, I didn’t watch Pulp Fiction the whole way through until 2002. But I did watch The Godfather in my mid-teens which is pretty good I think. So many people miss out on watching Coppola’s masterpiece until their mid-twenties. I knew this would be good though. I don’t know why, but from all the footage I have seen, I knew it was going to be hip and cool and, ultimately an entertaining movie. Turns out, it is also incredibly well-acted with Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Jonny Lee Miller, Kelly MacDonald and Ewan Bremner. All of which, folowing this film, were set up for life. The film itself, in my opinion, began the whole drugs, clubs and fast-paced adreneline movies of the 90’s. So, 1996, Trainspotting. Lola Rennt in 1996 and then, both Go and Human Traffic in 1999. I love these movies – yet watched the 1999 movies many times before getting Trainspotting in. So, after a Christmas in 2003, I recieved this and, since then, I have watched it at least 3 times. Never loses its sparkle.


It is centred around four characters primarily: Renton (The lead role played by McGregor), Sick Boy (Miller), Begbie (Carlyle), Spud (Bremner). There is a fifth character, Tommy (Kevin McKidd) but I don’t feel like we see him as much – important in the first act, but then it moves away from him in the second act and he’s not in the last act at all. The story progresses as we initially see a heroin addicts day-to-day life – until it screws-up royally as a baby of another addict dies. Everyone vows to stay clean – and Renton attempts to – but, ultimately, fails. Note that Begbie doesn’t do drugs – he is simply the most violent alcoholic ever. Tommy initially doesn’t do drugs, but post-break-up with his girlfriend he begins the downward spiral.

The whole film has a surrealist edge – so in a similar way that we visually lost perspective looking up the stairwell in Shallow Grave – in this film it goes further, showing entire surreal sequences as Renton disappears down a toilet and begins swimming amongst pure, water to find the pills he – by mistake – excreted seconds prior. One section shows Renton go cold turkey and try and give-up the drugs, but goes completely nuts. Cue another strange surrealist sequence as a baby crawls on the roof (a baby that recalls the plastic baby toy in Shallow Grave). This whole sequence even has good ol’ Dale Winton – one of the UK’s mid-nineties TV personalities. One of the few dated aspects to the movie. I guess, now, it would be Ant ‘n’ Dec.

Based amongst the Edinburgh clubbing, drug scene, Boyle did state that he wanted the music to have a timeless quality to it – and so we have everything from Iggy Pop and Lou Reed through Pulp and Blur and out to Underworld and Leftfield spaning a time period from the 70’s through to the 90’s. A real fantastic selection of music. I could do a whole blog on the music alone. The use of Lust for Life by Iggy Pop is interesting as it is shown at start (Danny Boyles running-through-the-streets, fast-paced start … we see it again in Slumdog Millionnaire, even Millions has the two kids running around the house being built around them during the opening credits) and also shown midway through, but with a different tone. What began as sneak-theives and petty-theft becomes, by the second time we see the same sequence with the same music, a sad situation, whereby we feel pity and hopelessness. They still can’t kick the habit.

Interesting facet is Swanney’s house. Swanney is the dealer in the film and he has a grimy, dirty hole of a house where the druggies go. Boyle mentions on some special features that this house where they shoot up and knock out is representative of skin – with puncture and problems throughout. It has such a damp feeling and you really see how low these character shave got to reside in such a place. Even when Renton OD’s to the tune of ‘Perfect Day’ within the house, it is this horrible place he is taken out from, by his feet, as he is left on a road to be picked up by ambulance.

The whole ‘choose life’ monologue is incredible and, I’m sure, will remain as one of the most important film-monologues of the nineties. Now theres a feature for ‘Empire’ or ‘Sight and Sound’ … maybe even Adam Kempanaer and Matty Robinson can do a Top 5 ‘Best Monologues of Cinema from…’ each decade? Taxi Driver‘s ‘are you talkin’ to me’ would be in there. Maybe, having mentioned The Godfather the opening ‘I believe in America…’. Whatever the case ‘choose life’ would be amongst the top 10 at the very least if not the number one.

Righto – its an incredible movie with every aspect you want from a film. It’s iconic and always shall be – no doubt constantly rehashed and inspired-from akin to Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction two years prior. Iconic to the point that, in 1997, following all the publicity for the film – having not seen the film – my younger brother and I, when set free with a cheap camera took pictures of each other looking like film characters – one of which was the whole Renton holding himself pose in the poster above). At the aged of 10 and 12, thats pretty impressive for a character look and style. Danny Boyle had truly arrived. (We also done a Forrest Gump picture and many pictures of ourselves lay on roads as if we had just been ran over… strange children we were)

I only wish Porno, Irvine Welsh’s follow-up novel, was made next. I read the book a short while after having watched the film and it has been written as if the first film was its predescessor. from what I hear, a character omitted from John Hodge’s screenplay for Trainspotting is equally missing from Porno which gives the indication that Porno was made, to be made into a film. It has been a while since I have read it but, from what I recall, Renton is in Amsterdam, Sick-boy is the lead character (imagine that, a whole new perspective in the Trainspotting universe!) and Begbie is released from prison and – unintentionally – they all happen to bump into each other. I loved the book and I, even now, still chase up details of the film because so far, all i know, is that some company has got the rights but people are waiting on McGregor and Boyle to agree. Jonny Lee Miller probably needs to jump on this while Carlyle, having fallen from grace into 24:Redemption and Stargate (apparently made, in the hope that it becomes ‘cool’) shouldn’t be too hard to convince. Then there is Kelly MacDonald. Just done Michael Keatons directorial debut and having worked with the Coen Brothers. Might be quite difficult. At least they need to look old and haggard … so they could film it in another ten years when their credability is completely gone.


  1. Ugh – commentbox ate my comment.

    In summary:
    Trainspotting: film most associated with my teen self!
    Book is depressing!
    “Porno” is on my shelf… been there forever! Haven't read it!

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