Feet pound against the concrete. The drums of Iggy Pop’s ‘Lust for Life’ pound with fast-paced fervour. ‘Choose life.’ A near miss with a car on a side street. Ewan McGregor’s Mark Renton gasps a maniacal laugh, purple rings highlight his frenzied eyes. Heroin chic. But Rent-boy’s lust for life is nowhere to be seen, replaced instead by the pursuit of pure self-indulgence and pleasure. ‘Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family.’ The spiel goes on, choked with nihilism and punk rock attitude.
The 90s saw a distinctive Scottish cinema burst on the scene that let mainstream audiences snatch a glimpse of a different side of British youth culture. Trainspotting is Danny Boyle’s second feature to come out of this after the savagely dark thriller that is Shallow Grave. The Tartan and kilts were ditched in favour of grimy council estates and drug-riddled streets. The electrifying stylization of Trainspotting at once nods to the likes of Tarantino’s rhythmic mix-match editing, while also taking inspiration from the episodic structure of European art cinema. Euphoric highs counter frenzied lows. Boredom, sexcapades, and the worst toilet in Scotland. We’re never spared the gory details, as characters are laid bare to expose the harsh, uncensored realities of working class life.
While there is a lot going on in Trainspotting, it’s not all sex drugs and rock n’roll. Renton’s inner monologue speaks to a disillusioned younger generation taught to measure success through material possession. Capitalist milestones as indicators of a fulfilling and well-achieved existence. Renton’s lifestyle holds a middle finger to society and provides a twisted nihilistic nightmare fantasy that resonates ever still with the fucked up masochistic voice that resides deep inside us all.
Maybe this is why a sequel to Trainspotting feels so right. Often met with a roll of the eyes, sequels to classics such as this one are usually a no-go. But there’s something about the relatability of these characters that begs us to wonder: how are they faring 20 years on? With its release planned for the new year, T2 couldn’t come at a better time. Feelings of discontentment are rife; the political climate worldwide is as turbulent as ever. Renton’s rant in the highlands, a proclamation for embittered despondent youth everywhere, sums up the general sentiment post-Scottish independence referendum, and the Brexit fallout. The ever-present divide between old and young is reflected through Renton’s view of his parents, particularly his mother’s socially acceptable addiction to prescription drugs and complete lack of understanding.
Couple this with the fact that the voices of young people are seemingly being stifled, and whether consciously or not, we long for a simpler, more carefree existence. Trainspotting gives a glimpse of this, as well as the social conditions that help breed such bitter resentment. It’s soon made clear that Renton’s life choices are not without consequence. In the squalor of dimly lit, sparsely furnished apartments, heroin is a cookin’. A sweet, temporary escape from the pain and disappointment. From one rush to the next, the bliss soon leads to sweat, chills and despair. Trains glide along stretched walls, a dead baby crawls along the ceiling. Restless and troubled, a web of anxiety and mental overhaul ensues.
The epitomy of ambiguity and moral indifference, Renton’s desire for happiness is muddied with a confusion many can relate to, now more than ever. His anti-establishment, no bullshit approach to life creates a black humour that propels the film in a way that lends a strangely uplifting vibe to otherwise bleak topics. Despite the dread and tripped out disorientation of youth that Trainspotting brings to life, it still manages to bear fresh relevance and meaning in a weirdly life-affirming way. Trainspotting is about change. Finding something new, adapting. While everyone have their vices, no one can dodge change completely. Trainspotting hammers this home with an intense passion, daring us to be bold in the face of life’s shitshows.
T2: Trainspotting 2 is released in UK cinemas on 27th January 2017.