Subscribe to Christianity Today
-by Roy Anker
To Drug or Not to Drug
Does Trainspotting invest heroin addiction with a hip seductiveness, or is it simply uncommonly honest about both the pleasures and the price of drugs?
Three Edinburgh boys, midtwenties working-class, like heroin a lot. They each have a habit, on-again, off-again. A few years of their story is recalled by the liveliest, Renton (Ewan McGregor), whose voiceover riffs convey his strangely winsome view of potent drugs in his unlovely life. The world according to Renton, which is the substance of Trainspotting, features his take on drugs, bourgeois life, and meaning in general, and it is Renton's voice that gives this episodic movie a kind of animating juice and coherence.
By any measure, Trainspotting is a bold flick: first, for its style, which has an in-your-face panache, and, second, for the view of addiction that the style serves up, a matter that gets murky fast and stays that way. For both reasons, but mostly for the ambiguities of "message," the film has gotten huge press, audiences, and fuss on both sides of the Atlantic. After all, a movie that makes junkiehood look defensible or hip is a rare departure, for we have had anti-addiction pics aplenty. And in the present climate of American politics, the question of how to read the film quickly becomes yet another spat in the culture feud.
Exactly where Trainspotting comes out on drug use is the big question, and it is not easy to answer because the film is at odds with itself. In midstream, it abruptly changes tone and direction while still sustaining its ambiguities to the last shot. The story starts with a plain giddy, almost wild infatuation with drugs. Cinematically that is pulled off by director Danny Boyle's kinetic camera and breakneck editing--a melange with kick, something of an urban Scot rap video.
The word critics repeatedly use to describe Trainspotting is "energy." Fren-zied or manic might be more like it: there are long stretches when the average shot lasts somewhere between one and three seconds. The viewer ...