The cardinal rule for making a reviewer's life easier is to give
high marks to everything you see. You especially want to praise
popular movies, and most of all you want to save your highest rating
for cult pictures with strong and vociferous followings. Nothing like
grade inflation and ignoring your instincts for making your own life
more bearable. I consistently ignore this rule. I am generally in the
mainstream of reviewers, but when I can not stomach a show as I
couldn't in TRAINSPOTTING I say so knowing full well I will get
complaints. Less than full honesty isn't fair to my readers.
TRAINSPOTTING was a smashing success last year in Britain and made
buckets of money. Its coming to America has been perhaps the cinematic
art house event of the year.
TRAINSPOTTING is a far, far out comedy about a group of young
heroin addicts in Scotland. Set in Edinburgh, this extremely explicit
depiction of the heroin drug culture focuses on Mark Renton and his
battle with heroin. He loves shooting up, but does on occasion try to
give it up. Mark is played by Ewan McGregor who was Frank Churchill in
EMMA and Alex Law in SHALLOW GRAVE, which is director Danny Boyle's
only other film. For my money, SHALLOW GRAVE, flaws and all, is a much
better film than TRAINSPOTTING.
Mainly TRAINSPOTTING focuses on the camaraderie of the druggies
and of their humor. The ongoing joke has them trying just hard enough
to get a job so they don't get kicked off the dole, but being sure that
they are so repulsive that no one will actually hire them.
The dialog by John Hodge and based on Irvine Walsh's novel has
many funny lines. If the images were not so horrible, perhaps I could
have enjoyed them. As Mark Renton puts it, "Choose life. Choose a
job. Choose a starter home. Choose dental insurance, leisure wear and
matching luggage. Choose your future. But why would anyone want to do
a thing like that?"
Most of the humor is visual with a subtext of isn't addition fun
and funny at the same time. This makes for a hard to watch film, which
isn't necessarily bad. I enjoyed HAROLD AND MAUDE about suicide and a
lot of other films with shocking subjects, but in TRAINSPOTTING the
filmmakers are so far over the line, that I could not like the picture
no matter how hard I tried. I kept thinking to myself, what is next?
Are we going to have a comedy full of realist images about how much fun
it was to gas people in World War II?
Let me give you two typical scenes and then I will be done with
this review. Mark's friend Spud (Ewen Bremmer) passes out and then
ends up spending the night at his girlfriend's house. What with his
going on and off of drugs, he has developed diarrhea. When he wakes up
his sheets are full of feces. He takes his sheets into the dinning
room where his girlfriend and her family are having breakfast. Her
mother and he get in a tug of war over the sheets which ends with
realistic feces going all over everyone and into the breakfast. The
lingering camera makes sure you see in detail the feces dripping down
each of their faces.
In another scene, Mark dives into a public toilet labeled, "the
worst toilet in Scotland." He dives into the bowl to retrieve his lost
suppositories. Never in your worst nightmare have you seen such a
For completeness sake, let me say that the rest of the cast
includes: Jonny Lee Miller as Sick Boy, Kevin McKidd as Tommy, Robert
Carlyle as Begbie, Kelly MacDonald as Diane, and Peter Mullan as
Swanney. Although some of the cast do not use heroin, most shot up
regularly and feed their habit through a combination of taxpayer's
money and stealing from people.
TRAINSPOTTING runs 1:33. It is rated R, but why it is not NC-17
is beyond me. In addition to the frequent heroin usage scenes, there
is violence, constant foul language, sex, and full male and female
frontal nudity. Since the MPAA gave this film an R, they might as well
just retire the NC-17 rating. I strongly recommend that teenagers not
see this film at all. For adults, I will grant you that the show is
imaginative and the dialog sharp, but I can not recommend this painful
show to anyone. For a show I truly hated, I still will give it * 1/2
for the high energy and the clever albeit unbearable script. As it is,
I feel like I am being ridiculously generous to the film.
Copyright © 1996 Steve Rhodes