One of the big tricks when finding an interesting film with social implications is to be able to differentiate between an agenda and an objective analysis. Of course, no one can claim to have absolutely no bias, but there is a big gap between the propaganda films like Reefer Madness and one like Trainspotting, which does its honest best to shed light on the use of heavy drugs in impoverished Britain. I’ve heard the film called both pro-drug by anti-drug advocates and anti-drug by drug users, which is a pretty good indication of the fact that the writers really didn’t have a dog in the hunt. As a lower budget production it wasn’t susceptible to the influences of corporations or interest groups, so what you see is relatively unadulterated storytelling from the lead characters.
Ewan McGregor plays Renton, a heroin addict in Edinburgh, your everyday average complete loser in an industry known to be more interested in the heroes or the mega-villains of history. This is a more bottom-up perspective; you see his exasperation, his occasional desire to change or reform his life, but mostly his addiction and the impact that the constant drug use has on Renton and his fellow drug-using friends.
One scene in particular represents the true tragedy of the friend’s sorry existence, and pulls into focus what a drug-induced haze the young male protagonists of the film are living in. During their usual daily observation of the train tracks, one of the friends has a stroke of inspiration; he would like to climb up the tall mountain that overlooks the train tracks. It’s a random burst of spontaneity, of original thought, and he seems dead-set on climbing that mountain, but his fellow friends eventually talk him out of it.
This scene inscribes the film’s message in a microcosm. Their lies represent nothing more than a self-imposed prison. They repeat the same actions and process, and while they don’t live inside the walls of a prison, they might as well be walls around their daily lives. Most of all, the group thinking and pressure of a group of friends prevents any of them from making proactive move towards freeing themselves from an addiction. The social implications of groupthink tend to be almost exclusively negative, which is one of the reasons I think a theme of this film is the importance of individualism and personal inspiration.
The reality is that this isn’t a viewing experience for the light of heart (or the weak of stomach.) It can be gritty, grisly and gruesome. From beginning to end, you’ll see a swim in the most disgusting toilet in Scotland, the death of an infant, and the utter soiling of a perfectly nice set of sheets (and I mean really soiled.) There is some inevitable blue and black humor, and it might come off as offensive to some but the film is still worth a watch for anyone interested in a better understanding of why people get involved in hard drug usage, and why this use is so hard to break out of. Anyone who has ever suggested that a drug addict “just quit” should see this film.