Last night, at the instigation of my friend and roommate, he and I and a third party with whom we had gone out for dinner watched the 1996 film Trainspotting. I found it, to my perhaps Puritanical eye, a well-made film with no value whatsoever. My friends appreciated it much more; IMDb rates it up at 8.2.
After some brief discussion last night, I revised my evaluation – or at least my statement of my evaluation – to the slightly more tentative opinion that I do not want to be the sort of person for whom this movie has any meaning. (In order to discuss this properly, I will have to indulge in some spoilers: you are now warned.) The protagonist Renton (I am pretty sure that that is “Mark Renton”, but the cast list on IMDb does not confirm this) and his immediate supporting cast are terrible people. All moral centering – both the true good of his parents’ love, and the approximation to love of a (distinctly underage) would-be girlfriend – is rejected by the end of the film. To me this seems even worse, as a point of plot, than straight-up hedonism, because at some point Renton has redemption – of a sort, at least – within reach, and rejects it.
I found I could not sympathize with the characters. In the first place, all the main cast are drug abusers; a failing to which I have an absolute revulsion. Murder is more understandable in my personal calculus: I could imagine reasons for wanting to be rid of someone, but none for giving up health and self-control for pleasure.
But I found myself rooting for Renton, at least as he came clean – and angered when he reverted to his old habits, under pressure from old “friends”. I cannot find any value in a story which can only be summed up in the old line, “There but for the grace of God go I,” – especially when the “there” in question is one I cannot fathom.
It fails even to be a tragedy – although Renton’s character could be properly tragic, or even heroic, if the film’s plot were different – because no justice is exacted for sin or faults; the story has no conclusion. An implication is made that Renton falls prey to the same dismal death and decay which we have seen consume his buddies – but only an implication. As far as the film itself goes, he gets away scot free. The film could easily be seen as a sort of Faust story – if we left Faust’s story in media res after the magus succeeds in seducing Helen, and we had only the remembered knowledge of the damning contract to remind us that things will end badly.
The film, in short, is incomplete as a narrative, and I hate incomplete things. The graphic nature of the film and incessant vulgarity did little to endear it to me, either. The craftsmanship involved was evident and excellent, but the whole thing was basically pointless.