Since 1990 the British film scene has changed dramatically with films such as Trainspotting, The full Monty East is East and Dirty Pretty Things hitting the Cinema with critical acclaim due to their intensely hard hitting and realistic tales about actual problems handled in an overwhelmingly authentic and dramatic style. I have chosen to analyse the two British films ‘The Full Monty’ and ‘Trainspotting’ as I believe that these were the two British films of the 1990’s which created the most interest and scrutiny in the film industry world wide (including in America). Trainspotting
Trainspotting’s representation of the term ‘Britishness’ can only be seen as depressing, it seems that the film tries to point out the constant negative self reflection that has plagued British youths, particularly in the 1990’s where heroin became more easily available and between the years 1995 and 1996 heroin usage increased by 1. 7%.
Perhaps the main reason for the youths self destructive behaviour is their attempt to escape from ‘Britishness’ as they see it “sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing spirit crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth……….. thing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked up brats you have spawned to replace yourself” as they see it as the only way to release themselves from the predictable normal life that they have seen their parents live. Heroin is essentially their escape. Renton confirms that they hate the place they live by saying ‘its shite being Scottish’ and calling himself ‘scum of the earth’, this is what he and his friends seek to fight throughout the film.
Trainspotting accurately represents the British youth, we can see how all of the characters want to escape their working class roots by creating a sub-culture which has formed a ‘class’ of its own, it accurately portrays how the youth of today tries desperately to be acknowledged by others and the desire to feel strong emotions (hence the use of heroin), because of the way that they are asked and almost predicted to fit into the same mould which everyone else fits into by society.
This is why it is difficult to assume whether the end of the film where Renton goes clean “I’m choosing life” is actually a positive or negative end to film, true he has given up heroin but has he just given in to the mould of life formed by society? In Trainspotting gender is portrayed, as with the other aspects of the film, in an extremely realistic manner. For instance it is a common occurrence for underage girls to go out drinking as Diane did and then to have sex with an older man. Because of this Diane is presented as a strong female character in the film as she takes control of Renton (black mailing him at the school gates).
Diane also makes some interesting comments about youth culture and drug culture when smoking pot with Renton, suggesting to him that what he is doing is not popular anymore and that everything is changing, this does suggest that Renton has lost touch with reality to a certain degree, I believe that the cool reserved nature of Renton in the film is supposed to suggest to the audience that he believes that he is cool (he dresses the coolest out of his friends and he is the character the audience are meant to relate with and therefore he has been portrayed as cool and the gang leader) and so do others within his group e. spud. And that Diane is the first to tell him that basically heroin is not cool to use anymore. This suggests, about the representation of age, in the film that all new generations vogues are replaced by another generations’ instantly after its been created. The youth is also represented as strongly anti society.
The characters in the film are somewhat devoid of a class, though they would most typically be placed into the working classes as that’s what they appear to be, although it is probably more true to suggest that they are members of the middle class, Renton’s parents house supports this view, and so to does the character Tommy as they both appear to live typical middle class lives. In 1996 heroin addicts made between 10 and 20 thousand pounds a year in illegal dealings e. g. Thieving, dealing, small jobs. 36% of money earned was spent on heroin, therefore leaving the characters in the film enough money to live at a lower-middle class level.
There is also a somewhat positive representation of heroin in the film e. g. “People think it’s all about misery and desperation and death and all that shite … which is not to be ignored, but what they forget is the pleasure of it. Otherwise, we wouldn’t do it. After all, we’re not fucking stupid. Take the best sex you’ve had, multiply it by a thousand, and you’re still nowhere near it. ” This suggests that the film has broader aspirations; to alter and to educate peoples understanding of heroin and heroin addicts.
Part of the brilliance of Trainspotting is its depiction of the irony in the fact that the story’s most frightening, socially harmful and violent character, Francis Begbie (Robert Carlyle), is the one member of the gang who does not do heroin but has instead embraced a legal addiction of alcohol. This representation of the acceptable “social drinker” rejects the stereotypical homogenized T. V. portrayal of alcohol as a non-harmful drug, which is popularly viewed in society as a somehow ‘better’ drug (in terms of acceptability and moral) I would suggest that Trainspotting is an example of both art and realism.
It tackles real issues, drugs, girls, money, and family. However it deals with these real life problems in a surreal way at some points in the film. The effects of heroin portrayed in the film e. g. falling into floor and cold turkey hallucinations, may seem surreal to the audience who have never taken heroin or any other hard drug most probably see this as surreal, however I believe that it is an extremely accurate portrayal of the effects of heroin, and I believe that this is why the film is so effective at giving drugs (specifically heroin) a negative representation and educating the audience about the horror of the substance.
The sheer fact that the characters in the film have been presented as loving the drug so much that they believe that its 1000 times better than sex and that to a certain degree they believe that society is wrong in suggesting that the drug is wrong and harmful creates a strongly negative feeling for the audience about the drug because it seems that the characters have been sucked into something terrible and that they don’t realise.
The negative drug vibe in the film is effectively portrayed in a number of scenes throughout the film, so much so that now when people think of the word heroin it conjures up twisted images of dead babies crawling along the sealing. The films imagery is by this measure very potent and influential. The scene where Renton takes a hit of heroin and overdoses is another very effective scene in the film, the audience sees Renton take a hit, from a view within the dirty needle and then sinking into the floor in a terrible trip. Renton had overdosed.
This scene, I feel, tries to suggest a sense of when you’re on heroin your life is in the needles hands, the way Renton is sliding into the carpet on the floor is has an association in the audiences mind with his life slipping away. The music playing In the background (perfect day by Lou Reed) is a slow paced song with a slightly depressing tone yet quite positive lyrics, suggests to the audience that Renton is enjoying himself however at a great cost. Producing a questioning feeling in the audiences mind; why is he doing what he is doing? It is at this point that Renton is also questioning himself and his habit.
Ewan McGregor had stared in 7 films before Trainspotting, none of which were regarded as being particularly influential, nor had he had much of an impact on the TV screen except for a short unsatisfying role in ER. This meant that he was relatively unknown before Trainspotting and therefore he fit the role more so than he would now, in actual fact director, Danny Boyle decided that if a sequel was to be made McGregor would not be making an appearance, claiming that he now has too much of a ‘clean cut’ style both physically and commercially than he would require, since star wars.
McGregor was chosen to star in the first film because he had no (or little) background image attached to his name and therefore could be given an image to suit the film, this was done through heavy marketing with heavy usage of film posters staring the characters from the film. Danny Boyle was also relatively unknown as a director except for his fairly popular (in Britain and America) film ‘Shallow Grave’; Trainspotting was the film in which he chose to break through the industry.