The Tough Choices

1 Aug

Film: Trainspotting

Director: Danny Boyle

Year Released: 1996

Cast: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Kelly MacDonald

Available on Netflix Streaming: Yes

Available on Cuevana: Yes

Rating: 9.7/10

Renton and Spud fly down a busy Edinburgh streeet as police follow

Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol, and dental insurance. Choose fixed interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisurewear and matching luggage. Choose a three-piece suit on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. 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 yourselves. Choose your future. 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?

Consider these wise words from main character Mark “Rent-boy” Renton, played by Ewan McGregor, the next time you go to class, have dinner with your family, go to work, or purchase your newest technical gizmo to add to your coveted collection. In a short soliloquy, played along Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life and over images of Renton sprinting from the police, director Danny Boyle manages to summarize the entire meaning and significance of our lives. And what a life that is. Then again, Renton’s alternative lifestyle does not seem to provide a better solution, as Boyle demonstrates throughout the film. So what life is Boyle trying to tell us to live? Well it seems almost obvious: everything is a choice! You choose what to make of your life.

Boyle’s masterful film tells the tale of a group of friends, afflicted with heroin addiction, residing in Edinburgh Scotland, as they attempt to kick the habit and live a “better” life. Filled with humor, drama, intensity and moral depravity, Trainspotting succeeds on every level. We are introduced to perhaps the most deplorable yet sympathetic characters, and the story takes us through several turns in their lives. Perhaps the best moments in this masterpiece remain the scenes depicting withdrawal of main character, Renton, as he struggles to resist temptation and his several issues become apparent to the viewer. As much as people like to say that this is a movie about drugs, it is not. Sure, heroin is by and large the narrative paddle of the film. It does give the plot a base and allows the story to progress; however, this film is truly a documentation of the 90’s British culture and allows us to see five characters, honest and pure, making it through life in Scotland. For Boyle, there are no filters or ideas of painting a prettier picture. Never does he point or wave fingers at the actions of his characters. They are who they are and their choices influence their future. This is truly a film about finding yourself. And the terrific music in the film enhances this central motif.

Throughout the film, upbeat tempos contrast with subtle, moody tones (sometimes overlapped), which create a wide range of sounds and subsequently a quite eclectic soundtrack that is simply put, one of the best movie soundtracks of all time. Rarely does music complement the tone of films, much less add an extra layer of depth to a film’s core meaning and principle; however, Trainspotting’s soundtrack enriches the plot, the setting and the characters to the point where certain scenes of the film gain a musical identity.

Meet Spud: Hard to understand what he's saying sometimes

The Scottish setting of the film creates an extra dimension of sound: the language. Indeed, Scots can sound like they speak a different language at times, and Trainspotting illustrates their foreign, filthy mouths beautifully. Each character has a different cadence to their voice; the character Begbie for instance speaks with curtness and bluntness that induces a cacophony similar to what blunt force trauma must feel like. The exact correlation of character and their respective sounding voice by Boyle, establishes an authentic sub-culture that we are immediately drawn into.

The influences of Brit pop in this film cannot be ignored either. Damon Albarn (who went on to form the Gorillaz band) has his Closet Romantic playing over the end credits while one of my favorite songs of his former band, Blur, plays during an exceptional scene midway through the film. The Brit pop revolution had hit its apex during the release of Trainspotting in 96 and the associated mindset, culture and lifestyle had permeated much of Britain’s youth at the time. Simply put, Boyle’s story spoke to much of Britain’s youth at the time by portraying identifiable characters and a story that detailed the lost and existential sentiments of the youth. These individuals had chosen not to choose life but rather to ignore the everyday responsibilities that beckoned them towards their adulthood.

On an interesting side note, the film contains no music from Oasis, whom critics popularly coined the kings of the Brit pop revolution. On the other hand, soloist Iggy Pop’s significance on the film is very apparent, as the characters often mention his music and their taste for it. At one point, one of the character’s girlfriends tells him, it’s either me or Iggy Pop. Therein lies one of the fundamental themes of Trainspotting: what do we choose?

Former frontman for Blur, Damon Albarn

Well by the end, you gain a very substantial explanation from Renton while Underworld’s Born Slippy (great song) hammers the point home. I do not want to describe the end scene any further but for me, it remains one of the more magical and impressive combinations of imagery, dialogue and music in film history. This is a story about finding our niche in life and Trainspotting utilizes music in every way to bolster the story on every level. So much so that the music spanned not one, but two soundtracks.

So while the choices that Boyle presents in this film are the tough ones, the choice of whether to watch this film or not is an extremely easy one; in fact, it’s not much of a choice at all. Go watch Trainspotting!

Rating: 9.7/10

Here’s some of my favorite music from the film:

Sing by Blur

Atomic by Sleeper

Carmen Suite No. 2 by Georges Bizet

A full link to the track listing of the soundtrack(s):



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