A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.


April 21, 2011


When we heard that today was Iggy Pop’s birthday today the first thing that popped into both of our minds was this movie which not only features the music of Iggy Pop but has a plot point revolving around tickets to one of his concerts. We had been saving this movie for a special occasion. It’s one of the best movies in our collection, for one thing, and we need really great movies once in a while when our day-to-day lives. For another thing this is a movie that Amanda has an awful lot to say about, so we couldn’t do it on a day when we didn’t have time to do a proper write up.

For me the story in this movie is not what it is about. The plot involves a series of vignettes in the lives of some people in Scotland – mostly having to do with how heroin is destroying their lives. It mostly centers on our narrator Mark Renton, but it doesn’t have an extremely strong narrative – it’s just a series of things that happen to him and his mates. (Amanda has told me that given Irvine Welsh’s original novel it’s astonishing that there’s any narrative arc at all since that book takes the form more of a series of only tenuously related short stories.) Renton is an unapologetic heroin junkie who shoots up with his suave pal Sick Boy, his pathetic loser friend Spud, young mother Allison and their dealer the Mother Superior (so called due to the length of his habit.) His straight edged friend Tommy is having relationship problems. Then there’s complete psycho Begbie who hangs out with them and gets them all into trouble with his fondness for brawling.

Over the course of the movie Renton repeatedly tries to break his heroin habit with varying degrees of success. He tries to go cold turkey. He enters a methadone program after getting caught shoplifting to feed his habit. Ultimately he is forced by his parents to go cold turkey, after which he attempts to lead a more normal life. Even this, however, is difficult for him because his friends continue to pull him back into their life of crime.

I have no experience whatsoever with heroin. To my knowledge there are no heroin addicts even in my circle of friends. As such this movie is very much a window into a foreign and terrifying world. It is presented in such a way, however, that somebody like myself can understand and to some degree sympathise with the characters in the movie. My particular vices (coffee and video games) may be very different, but I can still understand the power of the high, the ache of withdrawal, and the near impossibility of kicking the habit.

This movie introduced me to a lot of people. In most cases it was not their first film, but there are a lot of great artists involved in the creation of this movie that I hadn’t known about before seeing this. Danny Boyle, for example had done Shallow Grave (which I still haven’t seen) before this, but this was the first of his movies I ever saw. Likewise this was the first thing I saw Ewan McGregor in or Robert Carlyle. I think that I did not see Hackers until after I had seen this already so it’s probably the first thing I saw Johnny Lee Miller in too. In every one of these cases these people went on to wonderful careers that never cease to delight and astonish me, and I always look fondly back on this movie when I seen them in something new. Robert Carlyle in particular is astonishing. That he can play the thoroughly awful Begbie here and then go on to movies like The Full Monty and Marilyn Hotchkiss never ceases to astound me. Poor Ewen Bremner, on the other hand, is so distinctive and delivers such a memorable performance as Spud that it is impossible to see him in any other role without seeing this pathetic character.

What sets this movie apart from others in my mind, aside from the great performances throughout, is the directing. This movie is the reason that I’ll grab anything with Danny Boyle’s name on it without hesitation. (That’s how I ended up with Sunshine for example.) There are so many fantastic, surreal moments in this film that help us to get inside Renton’s head. I don’t think there’s a special effect in this entire movie; it’s all accomplished through in-camera tricks, which endears it even more to me. There’s Renton climbing into a filthy toilet to retrieve a pair of suppositories. There’s the shallow world around him speeding by as he aches for a hit. There’s his overdose – where he sinks into a thick shag carpet and that comfortably numb POV follows him to the hospital. There’s the lengthy montage of his withdrawal with the stretching room, mechanical baby on the ceiling, characters visiting him in his hallucinations and such. This is a movie full of fantastic moments that have stuck with me ever since.

Put all that together with a soundtrack including Underworld, Lou Reed, and, yes, Iggy Pop and you have a simply irresistible, magical, terrifying and yet ultimately uplifting tale of drug addiction and poverty. It’s a unique sort of movie that remains amongst my favorite films of all time, and deservedly so. Now if only we had The Naked Lunch so we could make this a drug movie trilogy with yesterday’s viewing of the Reefer Madness musical.


April 21, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , ,

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