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Trainspotting, The Original

Featuring Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Kevin McKidd, Robert Carlyle and Kelly MacDonald in her acting debut.  In preparation for the 20 years later sequel, Trainspotting 2, I revisited this first film.


Unapologetic and funny, Irvine Welsh’s bestseller about heroin addiction is brought to the screen as a haunting assault on the senses. It’s about young Scottish drug addicts. I cannot recall a movie that illustrates the nightmare of drug addiction more honestly than this. Danny Boyle has directed a cult classic in a way. It contains over-the-top vulgarity of every description in nearly every scene, but also has some beautiful moments. 


Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor), is an Edinburgh twenty something who spends his days attempting to locate heroin, shooting up with his buddies, and robbing people blind to get more. He goes through withdrawal, rises to a sort of sober respectability, then descends again, lured by addiction. He describes the drug’s appeal thus: “Take the best orgasm you ever had, multiply it by a thousand and you’re still nowhere near it.”  However this makes the tragic elements of the addiction more bleak.  If anything, it shows the horrors of the addiction.


The actors are top notch, particularly Ewan McGregor, who was noticed by George Lucas and went on to play Obi Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars Prequels. Robert Carlyle is Begbie the one friend in the group who is not a heroin addict, but rather more of a bully of sorts.  Also, it is worth noting that the schedule and budget sometimes allowed for only one take on some of the scenes, which is impressive, as the film looks far greater than it’s actual budget.  This is due to great cinematography, and a very surreal editing style.


The title is a reference to a scene (not in the film) in the original book, where Begbie and Renton meet ‘an auld drunkard’ who turns out to be Begbie’s estranged father, in the disused Leith Central railway station, which they are using as a toilet. He asks them if they are “trainspottin’.


The cast also viewed Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and the Korova Milk Bar from that film is homaged in a scene for this film.  It is also noteworthy that McGregor exhibits much of the same charm and vulgarity that Malcolm McDowell famously displayed back then.

Trainspotting shows with a peculiar and irresistible humorous style to which heroin addicts will go to support their habit. It doesn’t try to moralize for the viewer; rather, it shows why these charming idiots shoot it up and simultaneously depicts the fatal results.  It is not a forgettable film, and likely gets mentioned in top films of all time.  I don’t know if I can agree with that, but I will say it is quite possibly the best British film of the 1990’s. Funny, disturbing, tragic and a pop music score that is still popular today.




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Jason Turner is a creative auteur from Kansas City. He is an actor, director, writer, filmmaker, producer, and published comic book author.