TRAINSPOTTING 25th Anniversary: Revisiting Danny Boyle's classic

Updated: Jul 16


by John Larkin


TRAINSPOTTING is available to purchase on Digital platforms such as Apple, Amazon and Vudu


This year marks the 25th anniversary of Danny Boyle's classic film based on the Irvine Welsh novel about a group of young heroin addicts in Edinburgh, Scotland. I took a rewatch to see how the film holds up since its original release in 1996. Some small SPOILERS ahead.


A great way to describe TRAINSPOTTING is a Scottish heroin laced version of GOODFELLAS with a hint of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. It's hard not to see the heavy influence of Scorsese's mob masterpiece interwoven throughout the film. You get a central character point of view with descriptive voice over, a quickened pace, inventive camera movement, a diverse and evocative soundtrack of classic rock songs and most notably, an electricity and emotional rawness that the characters bring to the material. In TRAINSPOTTING, Renton (Ewan McGregor) is our Henry Hill and we see this particular underworld through his naive and helpless eyes. Renton is young, lost and an addict. He's easily influenced and pushed around by the "friends" in his inner circle who are all struggling and damaged in their own unique way. Boyle is able to show us the horrors of drug addiction while still injecting an energy and fun to the proceedings. We sympathize with Renton's battle to kick his habit and root for him to beat it but when he does slip and shoot up we dive right in with him and experience the high.


A CLOCKWORK ORANGE comes to mind mostly because of the UK based, rowdy and troublesome ensemble wreaking their own brand of havoc (even when it's just among themselves) in a stylized and engrossing way. There are a handful of beautifully creative and surreal sequences revolving around the effects of heroin and are reminiscent of Kubrick's deft and artful handling of the 1971 sci-fi classic. Boyle never takes the sequences too far into abstraction, keeping us connected to Renton's soul and maintaining a miraculous balance of grounded realism throughout the hoopla. The now infamous sequence where Renton digs deep into a shit filled toilet is as realistically grotesque as ever. You might find it interesting that they used delectable chocolate to double for the feces in that scene. Take a look below:



The entire cast in this is as stellar as it gets. McGregor brings a sympathy and frustration to Renton that is as authentic as any great performance you've ever seen and never hits a false note. it's probably still his greatest role and performance to this day. Robert Carlyle's portrayal of Francis Begbie is simply astonishing. He's not just an arrogant loose cannon but a person you end up completely loathing and become genuinely frightened of. It's a true horror (or "horror show") performance that never feels out of place in this. Carlyle revealed in a 2009 interview that the basis for the character's rage was that he was a closeted homosexual who was terrified of being outed.


This was the film debut of actress Kelly McDonald who would go on to star in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN and the HBO series BOARDWALK EMPIRE. She lights up the screen anytime she shows up and you can tell her career would be burgeoning from then on. It is rumored she mistakenly invited her family on set the day she shot her nude love scene with Ewan McGregor.


What separates TRAINSPOTTING from both GOODFELLAS and CLOCKWORK is a hopeful and triumphant conclusion. Renton makes a choice in the third act that shows us a maturity and growth that we didn't know he was capable of. It makes us realize that we weren't just watching an exercise in style and viscerality but a deeply meaningful coming of age story about bouncing back from failures and bad choices to find a clear path to redemption.


After this rewatch I am finally ready to checkout T2. No, not that one: T2: TRAINSPOTTING 2, Danny Boyle's 2017 followup that reunites the main crew some twenty years later. I know it won't be as eventful as the original but that group of actors were so effective at making their characters indelible that it will undoubtedly be a fascinating watch. Cue Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life"!


JL