Trainspotting Review

Renton is a Scottish youth with a problem...a big, scary, dirty heroine problem and so have most of his friends. He wants to give up, but how?

by Neil Jeffries |
Published on
Release Date:

07 Nov 1996

Running Time:

94 minutes



Original Title:


Trainspotting doesn't glorify heroin. It glorifies youth. Youth at its worst, mostly, but youth trying to sort things as only youth can. Watch it again on video and it's still, in parts, hilariously funny. But whereas in the cinema peer pressure helped everyone laugh as the junkies got it all wrong, sitting on your own sofa, heroin looks more serious than ever. This doesn't spoil the film, but it destroys the idea that Trainspotting could ever glorify heroin. No way.

It begins with Renton (McGregor) giving up "that shite" but falling at the first hurdle, right down the worst toilet in Scotland. Truly one of cinema's most disgusting sequences, and perfect to introduce the rollercoaster rush of an unforgettable first half hour. Rich, earthy dialogue gushes like a ruptured sewer, etching characters deeper than any laughter lines. Sick Boy (Miller) mixes Connery's Bond with cod philosophy, Spud (Bremner) mixes dorky geekdom with the world's worst interview technique, while Begbie (Carlyle) mixes psycho sensibilities with impressive dexterity using the wrong end of a pool cue. But these personalities, like the settings — bile green apartment walls, the blood red den of their dealer Mother Superior — are stylised and get a sudden and shocking reality injection straight after a catalogue of hilariously catastrophic sexual encounters.

The morning after, everything's changed. Renton's already classic rant against fresh air and the English can signal one thing only: a return to heroin, to crime and to hell. Director Boyle allows roughly two minutes before throwing the viewer into the pit, and it's a stunning turnaround. A baby dies, Spud goes to jail, Renton goes cold turkey — humiliated by his parents, tormented by ghosts and lectured, bizarrely, by Dale Winton about HIV.

Once again Renton gets his life back on the rails, but the nightmares of his past follow him even to London where he snatches despair from the very jaws of hope. Fittingly, he and his unwelcome flatmates Begbie and Sick Boy return briefly to their Edinburgh roots to bury another heroin statistic, before a coach trip back south for an amateurish, pathetic drug deal — selling rather than buying, for once, and for one last thrill. It all goes pear-shaped, naturally, and no one is surprised, because by now the message is sinking in: heroin is for losers. For useless, unreliable fuck-ups, But in the hands of Boyle and this fantastic cast, and with a stunning soundtrack, it is possible to receive that message in an unprecedented and unrivalled piece of entertainment. Something Britain can be proud of and Hollywood must be afraid of. If we Brits can make movies this good about subjects this horrific, what chance does Tinseltown have?

Choose life? Get a life — choose Trainspotting.

This films does not glorify drugs it glorifies film.
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