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A High Ride

by Aritra Dey

Right on track

TLR Rating: 8 Reels.



Being high on substance induces a feeling which only the user can relate to. The euphoria that comes in with a kick is what draws people to partake the illegal chemicals. Narcotics has its lows too, often becoming the very essence in the lives of the addicts and turning them into mindless puppets. The audience, over the years have classified Danny Boyle’s 1996 cult classic, ‘Trainspotting’ as both pro and anti-drug propaganda, but in truth, no film related to substance abuse manages to remain so pragmatic.

The entire film is highly charged with energy, got from the endless syringe shots of heroin, and for a clean viewer, this is the closest experience of the euphoria he/she can get. John Hodge’s inducing screenplay from Irvine Welsh’s already popular novel, sets a layer of Scottish pessimism over a bed of crazy humor, making the audience grip onto their seats. The characters are introduced in a quite innovative fashion, keeping in line with the adrenaline rush of the film. The protagonist, Renton, breaks into a declarative monologue on choosing life, as he is seen running at break-neck speed to evade a couple of store detectives. In continuation of this monologue, we get introduced to a weasel-like droopy Spud, a confident blonde Sick Boy, a clean athlete Tommy and the drug-less psychopath Begbie, who gets off by shoving glass in people’s faces. They are an universe or two away from the usual image of a ‘friends’ gang, but nevertheless, ‘cook up’ heroin together and pass out seemingly everywhere in their world of high. Even when Renton thinks of abandoning this pointless course of life, by going into a self-proclaimed break with valium, a TV set and three buckets, he can’t make it permanent. Despite rediscovering his sex-drive and finding love in Diane – a 15- year old school girl, he was drawn back to the world of needles and induced hallucinations.

Hallucinations don’t come in a better way

‘Trainspotting’ takes the audience well inside the crack-den, and without any preaching, shows the filth and horror surrounding the lives of the addicts. The presence of Dawn, a fellow-addict Allison’s baby during their intake sessions, pits neglected innocence against the vileness of selfishness. When the baby dies from lack of attention, it shakes them momentarily, especially Sick Boy, revealed then to be the child’s father. Allison pleading for a shot of heroin might repulse the normal audience, but in the eyes of Renton and others, it was perfectly natural as she wanted to drown her grief. Getting high has its lows and this scene nails them perfectly. Such was the extent of their addiction that, Renton actually fumbles in a revoltingly dirty toilet (perhaps the most stomach-churning toilet in the history of movies) to retrieve a couple of opium tablets. Narrated in a hallucinogenic comic way, Renton is shown to dive headfirst into the muck, swim over in a surprisingly clean underwater pool and retrieve the tablets from the floor. His eventual triumph in this deliberately overdone sequence is funny to watch, but in its own way is an example of the mental state of the addicts.

Renton’s overdose scene ranks amongst the top chilliest drug overdose scenes of all time. The style with which it was shown and the attention to detail, combined with a close-up if the drug being shot into the throbbing veins, made the scene tense and funnily tipsy. He is carried in a stupor and laid out on the road by the dealer, only to be taken to a hospital in a cab. The hallucinations that followed, where Renton spied his friends and Dawn on the ceiling make up for some cringe worthy moments, visually depicting ‘uber-highness’.

Luck, as always plays its part, helping Renton stay safe from AIDS, despite years of repeated syringe sharing and driving Tommy to death due to the same reason. The golden haired athlete had taken up drugs on the wake of his break up with Lizzie (events set in chain by Renton, who had stolen the couple’s sex tape) and suffered with a premature death. This event split up the group for some time, with Renton bagging a job in London as a property letting agent, before coming back together for a drug deal in London. The allure of the chemical can never be evaded, and Renton casually throws away his hard earned sobriety as he tested the drug and declared it to be perfect. Tired of Begbie’s waylaid temper, Renton ditches the group with Spud as his confidante, taking with him the cash from the deal and leaving a part for his scared friend Spud. He goes away, narrating his opening monologue at a faster pace, as he prepares himself for an exciting journey overseas.

The Scottish Rant

I have often found it hard to imagine that this Danny Boyle created a dung heap like ‘Slumdog Millionaire’. ‘Trainspotting’ was nothing short of brilliant; not only in terms of the story, but also for the innovative way of showing the scenes. Danny Boyle used every weapon in his arsenal; every camera technique which would transport the viewer into the world of heroin and coke, and give him/her the high. He wasn’t psychedelic completely, but introduced a feverish adrenaline rush to dictate the movie, and it induced the same level of euphoria as expected. He never overdid anything, never went astray with emotions. Dawn’s death might have been a breaking point, but Boyle showed the nightmarish mentality and self-control of the addicts in a cruel moment.

As in the case of drug-induced high, music plays a key factor in retaining that pleasing numbness. ‘Trainspotting’s tracks topped the popularity charts, as numbers from junkie bands like Iggy Pop, Primal Scream, Pulp and David Bowie accelerated the pace of the adrenaline rush, and took the film on a fast roller-coaster ride. You will bang your head and tap your feet, as you enter the crack-den and witness the protagonists plunge in the needles or go on one of the runs to escape justice. ‘Trainspotting’ has one of the best music albums I have ever heard.

‘Trainspotting’ is a pointless exercise which the characters would engage themselves in after a bout of high. The film itself might seem pointless to a junkie after drugs, but to an optimistic person, Danny Boyle’s 1996 black comedy is lesson to be learnt despite its obvious layer of pessimism. Ewan McGregor as Renton, Ewen Bremner as Spud and the excellent Robert Carlyle as Begbie became household names overnight due to their convincing far-from-normal performances. Renton’s tirade on the ‘Its shite being Scottish. We are ruled by effete arseholes’ does ring on in the ears. Drug use is never a linear practice, you have to come back where you have started. So clamber onto a platform, and do a bit of ‘Trainspotting’ yourselves!!

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