You’ll often hear the drugs make for great art. Where does such a terrible idea come from? The answer is amazing movies like the 1996 classic film Trainspotting, directed by Danny Boyle, and starring (before they were famous), Ewan McGregor, Johnny Lee Miller, and Robert Carlyle.
It seemed like all the great art of the 90s dabbled with heroin addiction, or maybe it was more a factor that heroin was the perfect lens to reflect on the absurd neon soaked consumer culture of the 80’s. The King of Pop and the Material Girl had lost all their street cred by 92′, and the culture ambassadors that vanquished them did so with nothing more than shade and understatement. Trainspotting came just in time to put an emphatic exclamation point on this era, and just in time to mark its importance in history before the dawn of Korn and Limp Bizkit, which in retrospect seem like mere parody attempts to emulate the raw unfiltered heroin sheik of the early 90’s.
Nothing last forever, but Trainspotting’s textured metaphors will last the rest of your life, calling back like ghosts of a time that felt more real, a time when even thinking about things like that would have been cooly dismissed as dumb nostalgic nonsense. Adult life is boring, and Trainspotting’s main character knows it, but as much as he tries to escape the terrors of a mundane reality shaped by his lower-middle class Scottish life, he cannot exert his will over his surroundings, his friends, and his family.
Mark Renton, the main character, believes he executes his free will by choosing heroin, a non-choice choice. He admits subtlely throughout the film he really has no control over this, as entire diatribes about setting up a perfect environment to quit junk end with him searching for one last bag to ease off from the brutal withdrawals. For someone concerned with choice, Mark likes to pretend his options are limited. When confronted with the anxiety of dating and hooking up, he goes back to heroin. When confronted with the death of a baby, he cooks up. When simply having to deal with family and friends who gathered to celebrate him getting off a shoplifting charge, he runs to his dealer and ODs. The only character growth we see from Mark comes when he sneaks in one last hit before the big drug/cash exchange at the movie’s end as he tells the audience, “there are final hits, and there are final hits, which type will this one be.”
As the film closes, he recites the Choose Life speech but claims he will be choosing life instead of heroin. We don’t have any reason to believe Mark, other than his admission that he’s a bad person. It’s a level of self-actualization that his friends don’t share with him. This acknowledgment makes him worthy of his role as the protagonist. However, acknowledgment doesn’t equate to growth and it certainly doesn’t amount to choice, so the only thing we can pull from Mark’s experience is that heroin offers no choice. He exits the frame fading out of focus mirroring an uncertain future. Trainspotting offers us no clear answers, but that’s what makes it one of the most honest films ever made