90s Movie Challenge Week 12: Trainspotting (1996)

It’s that time again, 90s fans! This week in #90sMC Matt “Rents” Adcock shares his lust for… the top-grossing Brit-flick of 1996.

Oh, it’s such a perfect day – because this week’s film is Trainspotting!

Choose life.
Choose a job.
Choose a career.
Choose a family,

Choose a f*cking 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 suite on hire purchase
In a range of f*cking fabrics.
Choose DIY and wondering who you

Are on a Sunday morning.
Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing
Sprit-crushing game shows
Stuffing f*cking junk food into your mouth.

Choose rotting away at the end of it all,
Pishing you last in a miserable home
Nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish,
F*cked-up brats

You have spawned to replace yourself.
Choose your future. Choose life.

Why would I want to do that? Welcome to a phenomenon – the mantra of broken Britain which echoed around the screens of cinemas in 1996 – as Irvine Welsh’s fractious and brilliant novel tore up the bestseller charts and Underworld’s Born Slippy became an anthem of disaffected 20-somethings.

Trainspotting was the seismic follow up to Danny Boyle’s first film, Shallow Grave and it changed everything. Not just an unflinching exploration into addiction and fallout of heroin use amongst a group of charismatic, neigh iconic characters, Trainspotting was a cultural nuclear strike on the senses and I was caught right in the shock waves.

Here we have a film that is truly disturbing. Dealing with the bleakest of subject matters, shot through with tragedy, pathos, fully poignant, and highly controversial but somehow incredibly watchable and even uplifting in some way that it is hard to capture in words.

The central tenants of friendship in the face of crisis, love, sex, death and the vice grip desperation of heroin addiction have never been so well captured or presented in such a way as to be both an instant cult classic and a film that feels energising even 25 years later,

With a plot that takes place mostly in the underworld of Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh, Trainspotting is a wild safari ride through the lowlife disaffected Scottish youth. Welsh who cameos as drug dealing Mikey Forrester sensed the energy that this big-screen adaptation brought to his work. In an essay he wrote about the film he says:

Nowadays, younger working-class people grow up in a society in which the main institutions of socialisation, where kids learn morality – the family, the community, the trade unions and the churches – have been emasculated by the promotion of consumerism and the market economy, They grow up exploring a psychoactive terrain, stimulated by computer technology and advertising.

This evaluation of society in the ‘90s was absolutely on the money. The rampant consumerism of the ‘80s was biting us all on the ass. Is it any wonder then that when offered the ultimate way to ‘escape’ the inherent loneliness and pain of existence that the drug epidemic swept up thousands of young people? The “Just Say No” rhetoric of Grange Hill ten years before Trainspotting had morphed into “What else is there to do?” hopelessness.

The film is shot in a hyperkinetic style, bustling with energy and wit, playing with viewers emotions as we see characters such  as Mark ‘Rentboy’ Renton (Ewan McGregor), the closest thing to a ‘hero’ in this tale, grappling with wanting to break their heroin habits but caught in the grip of dependency.

What Boyle does is give us memorably charismatic characters to go along with Renton’s voice-over narration. Simon ‘Sick Boy’ Williamson (Tommy Lee Miller) is a romantic villain, shrewdly amoral but looking like a saint compared to sociopath and psychopathic Francis Begbie (Robert Carlyle) who is a one-man wrecking ball.

Perhaps the only ‘innocent’ is Spud (Ewen Bremner) and even he is a thief and a junkie whilst the females of the film are mostly side-lined apart from the feisty under age schoolgirl seductress Dianne (Kelly MacDonald in her first major role). All the cast are on top form – if you can find the definitive edition of the film then do watch the making of feature as it really gives an insight into the creation of this highly influential experience.

As the film constantly shifts focus from the character to character, we get to walk alongside them and watch (in horror) as they stumble and fall under the crushing boot of heroin addiction. It’s an oddly euphoric viewing experience – at odds with the gritty drug films like The Basketball Diaries or Requiem for a Dream.

As well as great source material and a stellar cast, Trainspotting’s secret weapon was an uber-cool soundtrack – for me it reads like a ‘artists Matt likes’ list: New Order, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Pulp, Blur, Underworld, Primal Scream as well as nineties sensations Elastica and Sleeper. Stunningly used to segue from scene to scene, I don’t think any film has quite matched the eclectic brilliance of Trainspotting’s tunes.

So here we have it then, Trainspotting was the highest-grossing British film of 1996, and at the time it was the fourth highest-grossing British film in history. Pick by the British Film Institute as one of the 100 best British films of all time. I have to heartily agree.

Choose your future, Choose life, choose re-watching Trainspotting In high definition on that big telly you bought on credit. Enjoy every minute!

Next time we celebrate the Easter school holidays by heading back to 1995 for a good old fashioned family adventure film. The die is cast, and the game is afoot as Claire Skinner invites us round for a game of Jumanji!

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