I am not sure why anyone ever liked Trainspotting (1996). It is one of the saddest movies you will ever see. For those of you who are unaware, it takes you into the lives of a group of young Scottish people who are addicted to heroin. I have never done that drug, or any other for that matter, so I cannot speak from first-hand experience as to why anyone would be drawn to it. All I can tell you is what I have heard from others and seen in popular culture, this movie being the most prominent example of the latter. In my early years, I used to be much more intolerant of people who got hooked on that stuff. What began the process of changing my mind is when I once interviewed a woman who had once been afflicted with heroin addiction. I came away from it with a better perspective, and a great deal more sympathy. Much of what she said about her struggles jives with what you will see in this movie, and this is a big reason why it is so sad. Still, it is light years better than some other similarly themed movies reviewed by The Legionnaire that will go unnamed at this time.
Trainspotting focuses on one character, Mark “Rent Boy” Renton (Ewan McGregor). His narration of him and his activities sets the scene, with the first one being him running from the police after stealing electronics to support his drug habit. He makes it clear that, unlike what most people his age do, he made the conscious decision to become an addict. Before the audience can begin to get angry over such a decision, Mark stands up amidst his so-called friends (fellow users) and says that he is quitting. Yet, because he is an addict, he finds that simply cutting off the heroin leaves him with the need to fulfill his urges. After a self-imposed “cleanse” advised by his closest associate, Simon “Sick Boy” Williamson (Jonny Lee Miller), the main drive is sexual in nature. Thus, those he had been doing heroin with, who are each finding themselves with the same issue, go out to a club to find people with which to hook-up. For Mark, this is the surprisingly fifteen-year-old Diane Coulston (Kelly MacDonald). I say “surprisingly” because they meet in a place you would not expect to find someone of that age, and the next morning she puts on her school uniform and goes to class, with an uncomfortable breakfast with her parents to boot. The rest of Mark’s associates do not fare much better. Their misadventures of the evening convince them all to get back on heroin as soon as possible. This time, they are joined by their one clean friend, Thomas “Tommy” Mackenzie (Kevin McKidd), who had been dumped by his girlfriend when they find their, um, “special tape” is not where it is supposed to be. In his sadness, he turns to drugs, though the tape had been stolen by Mark. This time, all of them hit the stuff hard. I should mention that the opening scene discussed above is part of a flashback to explain Mark’s habit. At this point, it leads to Mark’s arrest, along with another of Mark’s friends, Daniel “Spud” Murphy (Ewen Bremner). Mark avoids prison, but Daniel has to do time. It is not long before Mark is back to the heroin. This time, though, his hit goes wrong, and he ends up having to go to the hospital. When he goes out, his parents decide that they have had enough, and lock Mark in his old room in their house in order to break the addiction. What proceeds is a nightmarish sequence where the sins of his past haunt him in hallucinations as his system cleanses itself of drugs. Still, he comes through it. With a new lease on life with a negative human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) test (taken because of the shared needles), he decides to move in order to put some distance between himself and what has fueled his addiction. His destination is London, and he takes a job as a quasi-realtor, selling apartment rentals around the city. Unfortunately, his past catches up with him there, too, when he is visited by the mentally unstable Francis “Franco” Begbie (Robert Carlyle). Begbie had never been a user, but he is somebody they all knew as having his own addiction, and that being essentially causing trouble. This eventually also brings Daniel and Simon, who are still doing drugs. Simon in particular sees himself as a budding drug lord, and he decides that he wants Mark to be a part of a new deal to sell heroin for a large sum of money. Mark is basically threatened into going along with the plan. They also need him to test the purity of the product, which means he must take one last hit of heroin. This all contributes to Mark’s decision to steal the money from them, particularly when Begbie turns particularly violent during their celebration at a pub. Because Mark had always had a soft-spot for Daniel, he leaves a small portion of the sum for his friend and escapes to a presumably better life.
I say that Trainspotting is better than other unnamed movies because it is better shot, and the main character seems to want to permanently quit the life of drugs. Yet, he does a number of pretty awful things to get to that point. Credit to him for wanting something better, but I wish he had found another way of doing so. Further, the film seems to suggest that there is no escaping being an addict, and that instead of fighting it one should revel in it. Addictions can take many forms, and I would remind everyone once more that the original program for beating these afflictions, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), has faith as a cornerstone of its steps. At the same time, there have been some who have suggested that Faith itself can be a drug. Karl Marx once referred to religion as the opium of the people, though if I had that particular idiot in front of me, in light of this debate, I would suggest to him that he is simply trying to replace religion with the state. Please forgive my editorial comments, but much of what he had to say is antithetical to my Faith. I digress. What I find problematic about the theories put forward by the film is that addiction suggests a lack of control over our actions. A key tenet of Christianity is free will, and God gives us the ability to choose Him over everything else. While this might ring similar to what Mark says at the beginning of the film, I would push back by saying that by this logic, any choice we make would be considered an addiction. Being hooked on drugs, or anything else, involves a mania that shatters inner peace. Faith is all about peace, and therein lies the difference.
I cannot emphasize how sad is Trainspotting. My description of the plot only scratched the surface. After all, being addicted to a drug as devastating as heroin is bad enough, not to mention screwing over so-called friends. There is also the scene when Simon and his girlfriend’s baby dies in its crib, the result of them caring for nothing but their habit. This baby comes back to haunt Mark in his dream. As such, it probably does not come as a surprise that I do not recommend this film. If there is anything to consume from it, listen to the soundtrack.