The Moment I Fell in Love with Trainspotting: Film & Book Review

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It’s New Year’s Eve, 2007. I’m nineteen and I’m at a block party one of my new female friend’s invited me to. More than a few months prior I had just gotten dumped by my first boyfriend. I took it extremely hard and had finally just somewhat started to recover. I wasn’t normally used to going out, but little by little I was learning to slowly come out of my shell. Just take baby steps, I often had to remind myself for reassurance that I wasn’t entirely fucking up life, but at least trying to finally live it. I typically didn’t get out much and I was sheltered by controlling parents growing up, so it was the first time I ever smoked weed and the first time I finally consumed alcoholic beverages. I remember feeling giddy inside, and like I was finally living on the edge. How silly I was.

During that evening, just in time for the New 2008 Year, friend’s of the friend that had invited me to this New Year’s Eve party in the first place, took us upstairs to their little attic room and put on the movie Trainspotting. I had never heard of it before until then. Immediately I was intrigued. I was hooked. Oddly, it was the signaling of the end of my sheltered teens and the beginning of a new eye-opening era into my twenties.

The Film

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From left to right: Sick Boy, Renton, Tommy, & Spud

I suppose I fell in love with Trainspotting because of its highly vibrant cast, and because it was so nontraditional and so raw, and each and every one of the characters was flawed in some way. Each character is well-rounded and you are able to invest in each and every one of them. Even Begbie’s character was somewhat fascinating to me, complete arsehole that he is.

Based off the book by Irvine Welsh, and directed by Danny Boyle, Trainspotting is an engaging and at times darkly humorous film about young addicts struggling through daily life in late 1980’s/early 1990’s Scotland. Many of the characters are mostly heroin addicts. It’s not a pretty drug, and it’s not a pretty story, but it sure is a well told story. Never have I ever tried heroin before and never will I ever try heroin for as long as I live, especially considering one of my relatives died of a heroin overdose shortly after I was born. And sadly it was in fact during the late 80’s/early 90’s.

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Diane (spelled Dianne in the book), portrayed by Scottish actress Kelly McDonald (who is also well-known for her main role in HBO’S, Boardwalk Empire

Set throughout the city of Leith, Edinburgh, and sometimes jumping to London, England, Trainspotting follows the lives and shenanigans of heroin addict, Mark Renton (portrayed by actor Ewan McGregor) and his addict buddies. The film is somewhat fast-paced and is mostly set in small pubs or seedy apartments—and let’s not forget the night clubs. What I also really love about this film so much are the cinematic shots and dramatic, often at times, close-up angles of the characters. The soundtrack is also spot on. It just makes the film even better than it already is. Since the film came out in the mid-90’s, it has some amazing tracks by artists like Blur and Underworld, and a few classic jams by Iggy Pop, Joy Division, and Lou Reed from the 70’s.

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The infamous dirty toilet scene

I feel like the infamous toilet scene is not only shocking but slightly comical. Sort of like this entire story. And it’s the perfect example of the desperate junkie attitude when you watch the movie (I won’t give any spoilers away). In America, toilets are usually never in this horrid of a state, but for Europe, in a small poor community, I’m sure this is somewhat realistic, if not maybe slightly over-exaggerated? I don’t ever want to find out. This isn’t a glamorous film and it sure as hell isn’t trying to glamorize heroin in any way. And for this, I appreciate it all the more.

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Renton drugged out

Besides the dirty toilet scene, there are some other pretty trippy scenes throughout the film that help you see the world through the eyes of an addict. This film is not for everyone, and some may even find it disgusting, but I think everyone should at least watch it once in their life.

 

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The crew at the pub with Begbie, who sits in the middle

The Book

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If you loved this movie or haven’t watched it yet and you are thinking of watching the movie, I also HIGHLY recommend reading the book. The book is even grittier than the film, and much more imaginative. And like the film, it is definitely not for the faint of heart, and can at times be somewhat offensive. I suppose it’s quite fitting that after almost ten years later upon first watching the movie, I have finally sat down to take the time to read the book! (It’s funny because I bought the book like three years ago, and just finally decided to read it. It just felt like the time was right.) As with most book to movie adaptations, the books always have a lot more information that films typically leave out. In other words: READ THE BOOK!!

First, let’s talk about the dialogue. While I was able to understand most of the dialogue and get through it much better than I thought, most people have a hard time getting through it and understanding it (based off reviews of the book), because it’s mostly written phonetically in the Scottish slang dialect. But that’s what makes this book so unique, and in my opinion, actually that much more authentic and rather fun. For example:

Ah want tae see Mother Superior n ah dinnae gie a fuck aboot any cunt or anything else. Goat that?

~Trainspotting, page 5

Funny thing wis, jist before this, ah remembered boastin thit ah’d niver OD’d in ma puff. Thir’s a first time fir everything. It wis Swanney’s fault. His gear’s normally cut ta fuck, so ye always bung that wee bit mair intae the cooking spoon tae compensate.

p. 188

Don’t let the dialogue fool you or intimidate you. Once you get the hang of it, it’s so much easier to understand and take in. This book is very thought-provoking and gives you insight into the times—and like the film—many of the characters are well-thought out and you can’t help but want to know more of their stories. This book was originally written as a collection of short stories, so at times during different chapters we never hear from certain characters ever again, or their back stories are not clearly explained. I believe this is why the film only includes the main characters. However, it’s still a novel and it all comes together and makes sense as a whole.

While the film could be set in the late 80’s or early 90’s, I believe the book is specifically set in the late 80’s, and brings up pop culture references like actor Jean-Claude Van Damme, musicians like Iggy Pop, Simple Minds, and Frank Zappa. Health epidemics of the time like HIV and AIDS is discussed a lot in the book as well, since many of the addicts recklessly share needles or have unprotected sex.

This book can be somewhat described as a coming-of-age story in a way, and it’s very mind-altering. It definitely gives you a lot to think about. And at times dark and morbid, Welsh’s writing still manages to be witty and humorous.

Although we get different perspectives from the characters throughout the book, the book is mostly in the voice of main character, Mark Renton. Renton’s character struggles with on and off heroin addiction and is supposed to be twenty-five years old in the novel, or as author Irvine Welsh puts it, “He was twenty-five going on forty.” (p. 148). Mark is bored with society, cynical and suffers from depression, and this is why he mostly chooses to indulge in heroin; although we learn later on in the book that there is another main reason for his addiction. His life isn’t that tragic though, because at least he still has both parents in his life that actually care about him and want to help him get off the drug.

The book uses the word cunt, like no book has ever done before. Except it’s not specifically directed towards women, but to basically everyone in the book. In the world of Trainspotting, everyone is a “plukey cunt,” or a “dirty cunt,” or you know, just simply a cunt. It’s honestly ridiculous and hilarious, especially when Renton and his male friends always refer to each other as cunts. Yes, this book is mostly male-centered—obviously since it was written by a male author—although there are a few minor female characters that make their appearances and give us their perspectives on men (Irvine Welsh is well aware that men are shit) and life.

Some of the characters can be sexist, like psychopath character, Begbie (not a junkie but just a violent and hostile psychopath, which is probably worse than a junkie), but at the same time, Irvine Welsh lets it be known that the men in the novel can indeed be useless pricks and are often in the wrong.

Hazel and I seldom have sex. This is because ah’m usually too junked ta be bothered, and in any case she’s frigid. People say that there is no such thing as frigid women, only incompetent men.

~p. 76

Unlike most of his comrades, Renton is anti-sexist and even says in the novel, “Men are pathetic cunts…” (141).

Considering the characters are Scottish and it’s set in the late 80’s, I’m not surprised Irvine Welsh also includes minor references of Nazi characters in the book, of course as the antagonists though. Meaning, they were around during this time and place (80’s punk-era skinheads), and sometimes there was no avoiding them or encountering them, especially if you were a half black-half Scottish man (one of Spud’s cousins). Some of the characters also call foreigners offensive names, particularly the psychopath/asshole character Begbie and the self-absorbed Sick Boy aka Simon or Si. This book will either really offend you, or it will be something to learn from and analyze, like I have done. I understand the point Irvine Welsh was trying to make, but for others it might come off as shocking or offensive.

Rents once sais, thirs nothin like a darker skin tone tae increase the vigilance ay the police in the magistrates: too right

p. 126

It’s sad how even here in modern day America in the year 2017, this is still true.

Mark Renton’s character is actually quite intelligent, and in the end, he realizes that if he really does want to quit the junkie lifestyle, he really does need to get away from the people and the town dragging him down. At times, this book is pretty philosophical, and although we may not be out of control junkies like the characters, we are still able to relate to and connect with most of them at one point or another. In the end they are all human, just like you and I.

Just say no. It’s easy. Choose Life.

Have any of you read the book before or watched the movie or done both? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments below!

xoxoxo,

Nico


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