Here's a top ten list of the movies that I watched over and over again in college:
8. A Clockwork Orange
7. The Usual Suspects
3. Pulp Fiction/Reservoir Dogs
Ok, just kidding. I never watched A Clockwork Orange. I just wanted to sound tough. Take that one out, move everything down one, and put today's subject at #1. I know Trainspotting is an acclaimed film and mostly well-known, but I still can't shake the feeling that it's vastly underrated,at least in the U.S. The British Film Institute (BFI) named it the 10th-best British film of all time. Ironically, the film's director Danny Boyle was given no love by the Academy but won last year for a good film that nonetheless doesn't come close to Trainspotting's brilliance, Slumdog Millionaire.
There's simply nothing I don't absolutely love about this movie, but Ewan McGregor's soul-bearing performance as Renton stands out the most. There has been no greater ommission in the 20 years (or so) that I've been paying attention to the Oscars than his lack of an acting nomination. He's funny, snarky, self-destructive, desperate, together, and malicious. The dude showed more range than Torii Hunter, and he got snubbed. Lame.
The other characters and actors are outstanding as well, highlighted by Robert Carlyle's psychopathic Begbie. You have no idea how often my friend Charley and I have boasted "Ah'm playin' like Poll Fockin' Newman, by the wee" while shooting stick with one another. There's also Sick Boy's rant about Sean Connery and losing "it," and of course the high-on-meth Spud's priceless job interview with a travel company, when he's asked why he's interested in the job: "In a werrrd? Playsha. My playsha in otha people's laysha."
Between this movie and repeated viewings of Braveheart, is it any wonder I do a much better Scottish accent than an Irish one?
Then there's the soundtrack, which perfectly pulses along with the beat of the film and its characters' plights. How good is it? It features techno. I hate techno. But I own and cherish that cd. Everyone knows the first cut from the first scene, the foot stomping thrill of Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life," which perfectly captures the deranged, chaotic spirit of the movie. But I prefer the closing song of the film, "Born Slippy," whose melodic keyboard shifts into a thudding, driving beat as Renton walks across the bridge, gym bag of money in hand, headed back into all his old mistakes, into his self-imposed doom.
The film's subject, which is largely heroin use, makes this a flick that most people won't see or give a chance. Indeed, it is not for the faint of heart. Its intensity in scenes like Renton's overdose, his withdrawls, or when he memorably dives into "The Worst Toilet in Scotland" make for a viscerally compelling film that many would have a hard time watching.
There's also the nuanced portrayal of drug use and addiction. While the film quite clearly shows the lows and ultimate destruction of hard drugs, it doesn't shy from exploring the reason people take drugs in the first place. As Renton says,
People think it's all about misery and desperation and death and all that shite, which is not to be ignored, but what they forget is the pleasure of it. Otherwise we wouldn't do it. After all, we're not fucking stupid. At least, we're not that fucking stupid.
Take the best orgasm you ever had, multiply it by a thousand and you're still nowhere near it. When you're on junk you have only one worry: scoring. When you're off it you are suddenly obliged to worry about all sorts of other shite.
Got no money: can't get pissed. Got money: drinking too much. Can't get a bird: no chance of a ride. Got a bird: too much hassle. You have to worry about bills, about food, about some football team that never fucking wins, about human relationships and all the things that really don't matter when you've got a sincere and truthful junk habit.
Bob Dole even called Trainspotting out during the 1996 presidential campaign as part of the typical "Here's all that's wrong with society" Republican platform, although just as typically, he admitted later that he hadn't actually seen the movie.
Ultimately, one of my favorite things about the film is its sense of place. Even if you've never been to Scotland, you'll get a sense of what its weather, architecture, domestics, and night life are like. You'll also get Renton's brilliant monologue on the little brother syndrome some Scots have about their country:
TOMMY: Doesn't it make you proud to be Scottish?
RENTON: I hate being Scottish. We're the lowest of the fucking low, the scum of the earth, the most wretched, servile, miserable, pathetic trash that was ever shat into civilization. Some people hate the English, but I don't. They're just wankers. We, on the other hand, are colonized by wankers. We can't even pick a decent culture to be colonized by. We are ruled by effete arseholes. It's a shite state of affairs and all the fresh air in the world will not make any fucking difference.
Nolanometer Final Grade: A+