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06/17/2004 Archived Entry: "Thoughts on Trainspotting"

I JUST WATCHED THE 1996 FILM TRAINSPOTTING. Not everybody's cup of tea, this movie. It's about a Scottish heroin addict, his addict pals, and both the bliss and the desperate horrors of their addictions. It's smart, well-made, edgy, with a classic punk soundtrack and an unblinkingly bleak outlook. It has some scenes that are so hard to watch you'll almost gag or want to hide behind your fingers. It's got scenes that are screamingly funny. And what's even weirder is that they're sometimes the same scenes.

It reminded me of Pulp Fiction, not in content but because both are superbly made movies about unlikeable people, and both left me squirming with moral qualms at the same time I enjoyed them (which is a weird sensation). Trainspotting is a film about the quest for meaning and meaningful relationships -- in all the wrong places.

But this blog rant isn't so much about the movie as about people's take on it. A lot of people see this as only as a movie "about drugs." Some see it as either a pro-drug movie or an anti-drug movie. "If you take your teenagers to see Trainspotting, they'll never want to do drugs!" Or "This disgusting film makes drugs sound alluring by claiming that heroin is better than sex!"

What is this pro-anti thing? Okay, it's intriguing that people could see the same movie in such opposite lights -- a measure of the movie's complexity. But why are so many people driven to see it as either? If you made a movie that featured the triumphs and injuries of playing football, you wouldn't have dozens of reviewers trying to decide whether that film was "pro-football" or "anti-football." Nobody muses on whether The Hours is "pro-writer" or "anti-writer." Was Backdraft "pro-firefighter" or "anti-firefighter"? Was Apollo 13 "pro-astronaut" or "anti-astronaut"? Is Mean Girls "pro-teenager" or "anti-teenager"?

It's ridiculous. A complex piece of filmmaking gets reduced to a pro- or anti- message in a lot of people's minds because we've been so conditioned, from Reefer Madness though "this is your brain on drugs" commercials to go into knee-jerk mode whenever the subject of recreational drugs is so much as mentioned. Damn shame. We not only polarize a subject that has far more than two dimensions. We willingly develop a tunnel vision that prevents us from seeing an artistic or social whole. Great acting? Complex story? Superb directing? Characters lovable or creepy or tragic? No matter. It's either "anti-" and therefore valuable or "pro-" and therefore an evil influence.

Same thing in life: druggie=bad, never mind that many intelligent creative people have been serious drug users. I've heard that at least one well-known modern libertarian philosopher was a heroin addict for 10 years. (I don't know him, but friends do.) Yet I suspect if that word got out to the world at large, his past addiction would cancel out the value of his ideas in most people's minds. Strange, the boxes we need to put things and people into.

(Sorry, I notice I seem to be in a real ranting mood today. Riding off on my philosophical high horse.)

Posted by Claire @ 09:42 AM CST

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