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Starring: Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle Directed by: Danny Boyle Written by: John Hodge

One of the true pleasures of going to movies is the chance of seeing something - an image, that will stay with you for a very long time. "Trainspotting" is chock full of images like that. It's a cinematic state-of-mind; a work of art so devilishly clever, that trying to describe it in words would be like trying to lobotomize a poet. It's not an uplifting film. It's not an inspiring film. It's a highly provocative film that is so raw in it's depiction of drug addiction that it feels extracted directly from the deepest, darkest regions of the mind.

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It's not about drugs. Not directly, anyway. It's more about the thought processes of those who not only use them, but think of them as an everyday part of their lives. It explores two different psychological paths - one involving the effects drugs have on the mind, the other dealing with the addict's constant justification of using those drugs.

The story centers around a group of heroin addicts, led by Renton (Ewan MacGregor), who narrates the story. We meet the group and immediately start to gain insight as to the reasons behind their addiction. One of the things the movie seems to understand so well is the relationships between addicts themselves. Most films about drug addiction take an outsider's point-of-view. "Trainspotting" gives us a taste of both perspectives. As our eyes encompass the screen, we are appalled at the way these characters live, and at the same time, we start to gain an understanding of how they have become comfortable living the way they do. It's easier to justify a lifestyle when others understand (and live) the same lifestyle. To these people, heroin is not really a tangible substance which has invaded their lives through the fabric of their own existence, but rather a necessity of life itself. For them, it's not an escape from reality, but instead a way to deal with reality. Nothing else can provide a sense of meaning for them. These individuals don't take drugs, the drugs take them.

Perhaps that is never more evident in the film than the scene where Renton, after being clean for several months, suddenly decides to test a bag of heroin to be sold by his friends. The decision to do so was not a difficult one for Renton - and that's why it is such a haunting moment. He never gives it a second thought. It's that complacency that engulfs these people and continues to spin them around in a whirlwind of addiction.

Director Danny ("Shallow Grave") Boyle isn't shy about using every camera effect at his disposal to convey the overpowering state of intoxication that heroin can possess over the mind. Surprisingly, we don't get a large number of close-ups of syringes puncturing the protruding blood vessels. Instead, we get a shot from inside the syringe, which serves as a powerful reminder that the drug is leading the way, overshadowing the user, dictating the choices he makes. We get other unusual and very effective images as well, including a shot of Renton diving head-first into "the worst toilet in Scotland" to retrieve some "carefully placed" drugs, as well as a breathtaking shot of the Scottish countryside which helps to demonstrate their level of addiction - not even a sight of the beautiful landscape can pull these guys away from their source of true bliss. We also get a detox sequence unleashing it's own rising tide of madness.

The film ends with an image as soul-piercing as it is horrifying. We see Renton walking toward the camera, tightly grasping a bag of drug money stolen from a former friend. We can hear his voice, talking about the choices he now has and the paths he can now take. At first, a feeling of relief came over me; young Renton has finally found a way out, has discovered a second chance. But as soon as that thought crept into my mind, it disappeared as the shot slowly goes out of focus, until the close up of Renton's face transforms into a terrifying hollow skull. It was a face of pure evil - a face of addiction. Maybe there's just no way out.

Copyright 2001 Michael Brendan McLarney Critically Ill

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