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Trainspotting revisited

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What Are You Watching? is a weekly space for The A.V Club’s film critics and readers to share their thoughts, observations, and opinions on movies new and old.

I run hot and cold on Danny Boyle. He has a sentimental weak spot; the ending of Steve Jobs was inane, and T2 Trainspotting just didn’t do it for me. But I think he’s interesting and a very charming personality. I met him briefly years and years ago at a festival and got to chat with him just recently for the new film. Doing the interview (plus having to review T2) led me to rewatch Trainspotting for the first time in who knows how long—since the mid-2000s at least. I’d forgotten what a great movie it is, or perhaps I’d just never understood. The overt references are to A Clockwork Orange and the 1960s films of Richard Lester, but really, it’s the Goodfellas of drug movies, slipping between darkly comic episodes with confidence and style. Pretty boy Renton is our Henry Hill and Begbie is the completely feral cousin to Tommy DeVito. Part of what makes Goodfellas so damn watchable is that it takes the pleasure of being a gangster as its main point of view and frames everything else within that.


I believe I’ve written about it somewhere before, but all of that movie’s long and splashy Steadicam shots are really there to capture the pleasure of mob life: the arrival at the club, knowing every local hood’s nickname, etc. It’s not about the ill-gotten money; it’s about the lifestyle. The horrific and morally empty stuff is explored exclusively through that lens. I think Trainspotting works in a similar way, hitting the viewer from the get-go with both the thrill and the camaraderie of being desperate for cash and heroin. From there, everything is an adventure, even when it’s something as degrading and disgusting as the “Worst Toilet In Scotland” scene. Simply put, it acknowledges that people do drugs because they’re fun.

I think of that somewhat Scorsese-ian bar scene, with its freeze frame and double layer of narration, and the way it frames everything through macho table-side conversation before punctuating itself with Begbie’s unmotivated violence. The film is a joy to look at; the use of wide-angle lenses (sometimes as extreme as 10mm) is consistently inspired. It’s probably Boyle’s best film, though I remain partial to all but the last part of Sunshine.


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