In "Trainspotting," the damned don't cry. They're too busy having fun.
An evocation con brio of Scots heroin culture, the movie is brazen, hilarious, disgusting, audacious, altogether fresh. It's also, without a doubt, the best dead-baby movie ever produced.
The baby, in this case, is seen crawling in suspicious good health, glowing all pink and shiny, around an Edinburgh heroin crib, ignored in its drooly, giggling bliss by all of the skaggy lads and lasses (including its mom and pop) who are too busy inserting Mother Superior's luscious white happiness into their veins. The next morning -- or is it week or month or year?, time being a somewhat hazy concept to this lot -- said baby turns up inevitably blue, swollen and quite defunct.
So anyone who tells you that "Trainspotting" is a pro-drug movie has repressed the memory of babykins turning stiff in his li'l cradle. Still, one can imagine the confusion. For the filmmakers, chiefly director Danny Boyle, producer Andrew MacDonald and screenwriter John Hodge, who were previously the perpetrators of "Shallow Grave," have made a movie that feels like no other on the drug scene in many years. For the one thing it dares face is the unsaid issue that drives drug addiction: the sheer pleasure of it.
As Rent, the movie's most irrepressible character, says, when you're straight, you have to worry about jobs, relationships, the pTC future, the family, the mortgage. When you're on heroin, you have to worry about only one thing: heroin. Ah, the joys of the simple life.
Derived from a novel by Irvine Welsh, the film follows the more or less straight line of the consequenceless lives lived by Rent, Sick Boy and others as they subsist between hits. The twin themes are fun and irresponsibility. It's a negative world, a punk slacker's paradise where not getting a job is seen as a triumph and boosting $20 worth of tinned food is a major ecstasy. Think "Drugstore Cowboy" with a deep burr and a joy de vivre that makes adolescent nihilism positively enticing.
At any given moment the movie is just as likely to be wildly funny as gaggingly repulsive. Of the former, I loved the nifty scene where the boys break into an old folks home and steal all their drugs and televisions, and the retirees are so sedated, they just watch with laggardly open, slack faces. For the repulsiveness award of the year, the scene that cops the prize follows as Rent (Ewan McGregor), who has a brief fling at kicking the monkey off his back, drops his suppositories down the filthiest toilet in all the British Isles. Yes, we see this. Yes, we watch Rent plunge to the bowl, rimmed as it is with evidence of much previous usage, and thrust his hands into it in search of the little darlings that will theoretically relieve the excruciating pain at his own port of exit when he is seized with the detoxing junkie's epic constipation. Yes, we even watch his yet more squalid fantasy overtake his reality when he plunges into the orifice and well, you get the picture.
"Trainspotting" most resembles Stanley Kubrick's troubling masterpiece "A Clockwork Orange." That is, its principal means of expression is ironic: We watch young savages commit atrocities, then preen and strut in the rush they feel. We are meant to detest them, but the subversive power of both films (a similar thing occurs in "The Wild Bunch") is that we secretly adore their freedom from fear. Our lives are craven, theirs entirely self-absorbed and self-expressive. We have worries, they have not. We have consequences, they have not. It takes a sophisticated mind to feel and mourn the emptiness behind their bravado; lacking that, it's possible to see their rooster-walk as an endorsement.
Other characters intrude, the scariest a young Scottish gangster (played by bantam Robert Carlyle) who could scare the hell out of the man Joe Pesci has played in the last two Martin Scorsese pictures: you know, a psycho who's apt to skyrocket into violence at the drop of a pin. His pathology is meant to illustrate the fair point that alcohol and machismo make as much crime and violence as heroin, and caution us from judging anyone too harshly.
But ultimately, in "Trainspotting," all things that go around come around; the devil is given his due, the unlucky boys die off or drop out, until only Rent is left. He's like the wary survivor of a Western Front slaughter, able to grasp existence only at the expense of others.
His isn't a noble story, or even a cautionary one: It just feels pretty painfully real.
We've been warned.
Starring Ewan McGregor and Robert Carlyle
Directed by Danny Boyle
Released by Miramax
Rated R (violence, profanity)
Sun Score ***
Pub Date: 7/26/96