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  • Andres Benatar

Why Is Trainspotting So Good?

Updated: Oct 14, 2021

Trainspotting: The Source Of Addiction

trainspotting full movie book adaptation cover

If you could find a reason to embrace nihilism in any sense, then Mark Renton’s cynical take on modernity and the willful acceptance the average person takes to it as opposed to living independently, then the reason for drug use can only be that more understandable.

Honestly though, what does it really mean to “choose life?” The fact that life can be simplified or reduced to something so simplistic only adds to the complications so many unconventionally thinking people struggle with as opposed to the pressure that conformity thrives off of. This inadvertently can only add to the greater capacity for failure and eventually an addiction most people will judge as solely the addict’s failure and nothing beyond their need for a hit.

“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 can openers…”

As a counterpart to the nightmarishly edited Requiem For A Dream, Trainspotting takes on a more free-spirited, yet equally mind-f-ing approach towards heroin addiction, youthful angst, and the utter purposelessness that engulfs the minds of so many unconventional individuals who know all the conventions of modern capitalistic society are nothing short of shams made to convince people they have it made when in actuality, they’re just one car or IKEA commercial away from being wankers.

In the 25 years since its release, Trainspotting has proven to be a landmark of drug-themed cinema. A passive consumer or a moron akin to the bureaucratic meandering of Bob Dole would easily judge this film as being purely nihilistic and promoting drug use, despite the fact they hadn’t seen it. This fact alone only further illustrates the central drive of the film, and what is at the utter heart of a story about a very lost cultural apparatus.

image of trainspotting cast

It’s incredibly easy to judge a group of junkies, which Renton and his squad of aimless friends are on the surface. But looking closer, and further listening to Mark’s brutally honest Scottish-slang laced narrations, you see that Trainspotting isn’t a film about simply drug addiction.

If anything it’s about the aimlessness that can often lead the youngest and impressionable of a country’s youth into embracing the most self-destructive urges, which are often substituted for the very causes of such willful fatalism. This sense of aimlessness can often take the form of drug addiction, alcoholism, and escapism in the form of pop-culture references, which is what many characters do, notably quoting Sean Connery’s James Bond.

As bizarre and more gimmicky as it would seem for the multitude of James Bond references made in Trainspotting to be, it actually fits quite well. It doesn’t have to do with just the specific choice of a Scottish landmark like Sean Connery, which most Scottish youths would naturally gravitate towards. But the fact, that it is James Bond, the embodiment of masculine power fantasy that Mark and his lads quote, quite confidently in their quasi- portrayal. It only strengthens the delusional aspects that further characterize their inability to deal with reality even when they're not shooting up heroin.

The thing about drug culture in cinema that is often misinterpreted is the drug user. Now, that isn’t to say that a person who injects toxic chemicals into their body in an effort to escape reality is completely justified. However, the fact that their reasons, regardless of whatever trauma driving them, all boil down to escaping reality alone show that there is a bigger picture at play and most people don’t even bother to consider that.

image of trainspotting cast today

Watching a film like Trainspotting is revolutionary in the experimentally indie-themed approach directory Danny Boyle embraces in his adaption of the Irvine Welsh novel. But, one thing a passive viewer of Trainspotting will miss, is what drives its addicts or soon-to-be addict characters into the chemical dependency that is heroin is the culture.

One of the most pivotally humorous as well as culturally significant moments of the film is the trip to the countryside Mark and his lads make. On the surface, there isn’t much to recognize in this scene outside of the beautifully empty Scotland countryside, as well as the train they spot, hence the title Trainspotting (pun certainly intended).

At the same time, Mark comments how as Scots they’re “Fuckin failures in a country of failures,” only to go on off about despite the English culture being a dumb culture in his view, they are still the very culture that colonized them.

“We can't even pick a decent, vibrant healthy society to be colonized by. No..we are ruled by effete arseholes. What does that make us? The lowest of the low, the scum of the earth. The most wretched servile, miserable, pathetic trash that was ever shat intae creation. Ah don't hate the English. They just git oan wis the shite thev got. Ah hate the Scots.”

Those statements alone not only reflect on the rather nihilistic approach the character of Mark Renton takes regarding his willfulness to embrace the self-destructive use of heroin. But they also speak about how a negative cultural outlook of your heritage/surroundings can make it easier to gravitate towards something as intoxicating as drug use in order to escape from what ranges between a bleak or absolutely mundane reality.

Trainspotting certainly has its profanely humorous moments, which very much aid in highly contrasting it to the more nightmarish Requiem For A Dream, which serves as a legitimate counterpart in illustrating the cultural analysis it takes towards the escapism that fuels a majority of pop American culture and the disparity that follows.

In the end, it’s important that drugs don’t become the center of a drug film rather than the cause, be it direct, indirect, or even as environmental as the result of cultural colonization that preceded the lives of the addicts.

Andres Benatar is resident film expert. You can hear him on the 'Cinema 237' podcast - A podcast for cinephiles.

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