'Trainspotting' Is Hip And Funny.
By Stacey Richter
FINALLY, AFTER A summer of cookie-cutter action flicks and fluffy comedies, a really good, dark, original film joins the competition: Trainspotting, a funny, harrowing movie from the same writer/producer/director team who brought us last years' Shallow Grave.
Trainspotting, the activity, is a pointless hobby in which mainly British males watch trains go through stations and log their serial numbers. There's no trainspotting in the film, but there is plenty of drug taking, along with the attendant lying, puking and stealing. To quote Irvine Welsh, the author of the novel on which the film is based: "Trainspotting is a futile occupation, as is drug taking." And, befitting a movie with meaningless futility as its central theme, Trainspotting has no proper plot to speak of. Instead, the story chronicles the loosely arranged progression of a group of friends through the unsavory drug culture of Edinburgh.
The anti-hero of the film is Renton (Ewan McGregor), a smart, disenchanted, steel-eyed Scottish lad who expects almost nothing from life except chemically enhanced pleasures. "I chose not to choose life," Renton says. "I chose something else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you've got heroin?" Renton and his mates Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) and Spud (Ewen Bremner) repeatedly hop the fence between cleanliness and addiction, without much improvement to their lives on either side. They are so firmly convinced of the meaninglessness of any effort, the bleakness of the future, and the humiliation of being Scottish ("the most wretched, servile, miserable, pathetic trash that was ever shagged into civilization," Renton quips), that taking drugs begins to seem as logical an option as any other.
Nonetheless, Trainspotting doesn't glamorize heroin addiction all that much; and if several of the principal actors weren't so good-looking, it would be safe to claim it didn't glamorize it at all. Renton watches with passivity as his life decays, his friends die or go to jail, and all sense of connection between him and his mates becomes as abstract and incomprehensible as the dialogue, intoned with rolling Scottish accents, may sometimes be to an American audience. (It's rumored that the American version of Trainspotting has been dubbed by actors with lighter accents, but there are still some passages that are difficult to decipher.)
But despite the death and decay, Trainspotting manages to be very funny. Renton and his friends have such contempt for the trappings of middle class society that the scraps of it they come in contact with seem instantly superficial and absurd. At one point, Renton and Sick Boy, stuck with the endless prospect of entertaining themselves after getting clean, end up going to the park to gaze through the sights of an air rifle at happy families enjoying the weather. They watch these "normal" people through the cross-hairs with palpable hatred. "For a vegetarian, Rents, you're a fucking evil shot," Sick Boy notes, after Renton nails a pitbull with a pellet.
Trainspotting has already become the second-highest grossing British film of all time in the UK (after Four Weddings and a Funeral), and it's probably its unrelenting hipness that best accounts for its success. Iggy Pop's Lust for Life opens the film, and various other underground, obscure, mostly eighties rock songs round out the soundtrack. The actors, notably Ewan McGregor, are young and good-looking; they wear stylish, dirty clothes and live in romantically decaying, shit-yellow apartments where they shoot drugs and make fun of their parents. It's practically the definition of hipness.
Not only is this film hip, it covers a territory that has been ignored in films lately. Commercial filmmakers have done a dismal job of portraying the perennial disenchantment of youth for at least the last five years--only tiny independent films like Slacker, Clerks and Kicking and Screaming have had any success, unless you want to count Reality Bites. There aren't any current-day Antonioni's or Godard's tapping into that bottomless well of youthful angst. Trainspotting fills the gap masterfully. It's sort of like if you crossed Slacker with Drugstore Cowboy, added the production values of Pulp Fiction, then threw in a dash of Warhol's Trash for good measure.
Due to Tucson's status as a seemingly marginal market for all films of interest, Trainspotting may or may not open soon at a theater near you.
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