Young Scotland applauds the crude, aggressive scenes of "Trainspotting." Respectable, middle-aged Scotland is at ease with anti-English xenophobia. Kenneth Roy wonders what has happened to the rough decency of the working class culture of his youth and yearns for a gentle, civilised nationalismby Kenneth Roy / June 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
Published in June 1996 issue of Prospect Magazine
The possibility that there might be something wrong with the Scots-that we might be mentally unwell-occurred to me, not on the day of the Dunblane murders but several weeks earlier in the darkness of a cinema. It was suggested by the sound of laughter.
The audience in our local Odeon for Trainspotting, a film about Edinburgh drug addicts based on a novel by Irvine Welsh, was predominantly young, heterosexual and fashionably dressed. Judging by the buzz of conversation, it was also of reasonable intelligence. People held hands in a sweet, old-fashioned way and devoured huge quantities of popcorn. All in all, you could not have hoped for a more reassuring cross-section of boys and girls next door. Still, I began to wonder if they were altogether sane.
The film is a nasty bit of work, brilliantly executed as nasty bits of work often are. It begins with a highly charged diatribe against consumerism, delivered at stinging pace by its young anti-hero, Mark. “Choose starter homes,” he sneers, “choose DIY, choose mind-numbing fucking game shows, choose old people’s homes, choose…”-and so on in the same vein for several minutes. “But why would I want to do a thing like that?” Mark concludes rhetorically. “I chose something else. And the reason? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin?”
The restless camera moves to an Edinburgh squat where we observe a young woman, Alison, having the drug injected into her arm and her ecstatic response. “Take the best orgasm you’ve ever had,” she says, “multiply it by a thousand and this is still better. Beats any fuckin’ cock in the world.”
You may assume without further example that, whatever the strengths of Trainspotting, a love of the word is not one of them. The film derives its effect, not from any verbal dexterity or wit but from its ability to shock. The techniques it employs are crude and disgusting; and the more crude and disgusting they are, the more audiences lap it up. The young people around me were-so to speak-hooked. But their degree of identification with the material on screen was disturbing. It became almost as repellent as the film itself.