Film Review from the April 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard
Trainspotting (dir. Danny Boyle)
If you have a weak stomach don't go anywhere near a cinema when this is on. The story of a group of Edinburgh heroin addicts it is brutal, horrific, gruesome and violent—hence the no doubt welcome publicity it has received in the tabloids. If it were a mere glorification of drug culture it would be repellent, but it is actually far from being this. It is instead a gripping account of life on the "sink" housing estates of British capitalism—a life of giros and empty days, of meandering aimlessly amongst the rubble and decay until the next "hit". It depicts a society where for an increasing number "life" is no life at all. A whole stratum of the working class, sunk down into the level of absolute poverty, exist like a collective living dead, and Trainspotting is truly their story. If it can be criticised, it is on the grounds that the only alternative apparently offered to this life of drugs and destitution is the bourgeois consumerism that afflicts other strata of the working class—the ones more used to Valium and Prozac than heroin. But in truth this is the only alternative offered by the capitalist system itself, and is therefore no real alternative at all. To this end the film closes with the main character cheating on his friends after a drugs deal and using the profits to develop a new life for himself in the sun, though with definite hints that mindless consumerism is in no way an answer to the problems of society, and is in itself often a product of a kind of poverty—this time relative poverty.
One of the most stomach-churning episodes in the film is where the lead character delves into a full toilet bowl searching for drugs, and this proves an interesting metaphor for the entire film. Life in the market economy is indeed heading down the pan at a fast rate, and illusory flights into drugs and nihilism on the one hand, and mindless consumerism on the other, as reflections of that process. Trainspotting reminds us that decomposing capitalism cannot sustain real community or social solidarity and is rotting on its feet under relentless pressure from the dictates of the profit system. Watch it and weep, but always be mindful that there is a real alternative to the mayhem of the market.