At the time of it’s release over two decades ago, English filmmaker Danny Boyle’s Oscar-nominated dark comedy-drama Trainspotting (1996) made huge waves in the world of cinema that hinted at the lasting mark it would have on pop-culture, accruing a rapidly expanding cult following to this day. The film’s grotesquely raw and hypnotically provocative portrayal of the tumultuous lives of a downtrodden group of Scottish heroin-addicts trying to make ends meet, attracted both arthouse and mainstream audiences alike, emerging as the the highest-grossing British film of its release-year and garnering a string of international awards – including nominations for three British Academy Film Awards in 1996.
Frequently listed amongst the best Scottish film of all time, the 93-minute long adrenaline-inducing, opioid-saturated, violence-bound whirlwind is told from the perspective of shrewd, heroin-addled junkie Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) as he struggles with his habit and his gang of dysfunctional, pleasure-seeking, drug- hooked friends – peroxide blond-tressed, swindling conman Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), endearingly simpleminded, welfare-scrimping Spud (Ewen Bremner), compulsively aggressive gangster-wannabe Franco (Robert Carlyle) and straight- laced, athletic Tommy (Kevin McKidd). The young men’s turbulent lives are compulsively centred on their desperate, emotionally-charged and unrelenting pursuits to score a hit of heroin, before customarily falling into languor in the nauseating squalor of their dwellings, as the troubles of the world slowly melts away around them.
Based on the eponymous novel by legendary Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh, the audience encounters Renton during a particularly aggravating period in his life, in which not single speck of the intensely penetrating realism of his predicament is concealed from the camera lens. We are made privy to all aspects of his despairing experiences, from the stomach-churching, anxiety-provoking episode of his first attempt to quit heroin that features the appearance of opium rectal suppositories and a vicious bout of diarrhoea, to his successful attempt picking up pretty brunette Diane (Kelly Macdonald) at a club in celebration of the cessation of his spell of genital impotence, later revealed to be a 15-year- old schoolgirl blackmailing him to stay in touch with her, and the devastating dismal death a fellow addict’s Lizzy’s (Susan Vidler) infant child as a result of neglect in the gang’s sordid drug den, an incident which they react to by promptly shooting up again.
Boyle’s breakthrough film injects a refreshingly and boldly authentic sense of social realism in its portrayal of the pertinent themes that accompany the troubling complexities in the young men’s lives, offering a Pulp Fiction-esque blitz of 1990s hyper-shock techniques and a sharp, self-conscious wit that pervades the film’s dialogue, seeping into the surrealist, riotously imaginative visuals and camera shots. Renton’s second attempt to get clean following an overdose at his drug dealer’s flat and a visit to the hospital results in severe withdrawal symptoms while recovering in his childhood bedroom at his parents’ house, where he experiences vivid hallucinations of his friend Franco giving him stern advice, young Diane singing to him, Lizzy’s deceased baby crawling on his ceiling and an imaginary TV game show in which his parents are interrogated about HIV – a topic which the film deals with in a brazen authenticity.
The production’s gaspingly relentless, highly energetic pace climaxes with an inevitably calamitous series of death-rankled, prison-fettered occurrences of pimping, swindling and clandestine business deals that is mirrored by the semi- dreamlike, Francis Bacon-inspired fantasy quality of Brian Tufano’s cinematography and the raw pop-punk score heightening the film’s overwhelmingly vivid, topsy-turvy dynamism. The auteur’s perspicuous look into the lives of a group of addicts living in Edinburgh’s economically destitute urban districts adeptly tows a precarious line in offering an unflinchingly realistic, brazenly uncensored and deeply sensitive portrayal of junkie life – in all it’s euphoric highs and cavernous lows.