Thursday, 27 August 2015

"Trainspotting," Danny Boyle, Film Review

"Trainspotting," Danny Boyle, Film Review

In Trainspotting there is another collision between the strong vision of an author and the strong but different vision of a director, similar to my comments on Fight Club, but more so here with director Danny "I'm a fucking auteur, mate" Boyle.


A good example of this is the suppository retrieval scene, which in Irvine Welsh's novel is a typical example of his shock-jock "what's the most disgusting scene I can imagine" style.  And it does its job.  It is disgusting and funny and it perfectly illustrates the desperate lengths junkies will go to with their addictions.  Danny Boyle takes it further with the scene of Renton crawling into the filthy toilet and then swimming through clear waters to find the lost suppositories.  It's a classier image than Welsh's and it links to a number of other cinematographic magic realism-like sequences that Boyle adds.  Who knows what they mean, exactly, but they feel in line with the hallucinatory, otherworldly nature of hard drugs.  But it's a different vision, stacked on top of Welsh's original, and the overall effect on the film is that it's Boyle's vision rather than Welsh's that predominates.

Review continues below...

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Another thing the film adds to the novel is the fantastic actorly presence of the five main characters: Renton, Sick Boy, Tommy, Spud and Begbie.  Each one is recognizable from his clothes, posture and speech and each actor turns in a great performance (unlike Harry Potter – see my review here). 

Boyle also adds some great location shots of run-down Glasgow flats and awful community pubs.

Other than that, as with Fight Club, the strengths and weaknesses of the film are largely the strengths and weaknesses of the novel.

There is a casual sadism towards women.  One gets randomly glassed by Begbie, another loses her baby, others get put on the game by Sick Boy as he implausibly expands his interests from film criticism to pimping.  The schoolgirl lover of Renton quickly becomes a kind of superhero character in her preposterous old fashioned school uniform.

Perhaps my biggest issue with the book and film is that despite their attempts to present a feisty Scottish working class, the whole thing reeks of the middle classes.

True, when Tommy takes the crew for a hike in the beautiful Scottish mountains – a classic middle-class jaunt – they refuse to move.

True, when the middle-class Edinburgh Festival takes place, the only impact on their lives is a rich American who wanders into their pub, who they beat and rob in a most unfair way, according to middle-class ideology.

True, they complain that their Scottish identify has been compromised by allowing themselves to be ruled by effete English wankers – a perfect example of which is seen when they are happy to take a poor price for a load of heroin from a well-spoken London dealer.

But, Renton's efforts to come off heroin and to save his salary in his brief London job are pure middle-class.

So are Sick Boy's ridiculous speeches about film criticism – surely he'd enjoy a little trip to the Festival.

And Renton gives his address to his one-off girlfriend and eagerly reads her letters in London.  It's hard to imagine a more effete, more middle-class drippy student way of behaving than this.

Overall, Trainspotting is a book with a message, a message that is undermined by Welsh's latent middle-class values (he jokingly claims to be more upper class than middle class).  The film takes on the book and adds the separate artistic vision of Boyle.  It's an entertaining combination.

Personal Score: 6/10

This is part of a series of film reviews where I give my comments on IMDB Top 250 films as a writer. The idea is that over time these posts will build into a wide-ranging writing resource.

For more details about the approach I've taken, including some important points about its strengths and weaknesses (I make no claims about my abilities as a film critic or even the accuracy of my comments... but I do stand by the value of a writer's notes on interesting films), see my introductory post here.

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