Critical Analysis of the Portrayal of Edinburgh through ‘Trainspotting’
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Critical Analysis of the Portrayal of Edinburgh through ‘Trainspotting’
Portrayal is a literary or artistic representation or depiction of a thing, person, event or place. Since this is a representation, the result is an expression of the perspective of the artist of the object of depiction. (2003) In portraying a city through film, perspectives may be categorized into represented space and third space vis-à-vis real space. Real space refers to actual views of the city. Represented space refers to the depiction of actual characters, sites, and events in the city while third space results in texts that involve the interplay of physical experiences and imagined aspects. Depending upon the perspective of the creator, city portraits through film becomes a representation of the view of the creator which may closely resemble the actual city space or transforms the city into an imaginary space.
Edinburgh is the capital and second largest city in Scotland. Actual space of the city shows that the city is in itself a historical site since it was included as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 1995. The city is dotted with 4,500 buildings and 22,000 properties, constituting a high number when compared to other cities in the United Kingdom. In 2001, the city held a total of 448,624 residents. ( 2007) As a represented space, Edinburgh has been portrayed to show the contrast between the north and southern regions, the old town and new town, and the valley and the volcanic crags. Towards the north are the gardens and bog lands while towards the south are the plateaus. The old town holds the medieval buildings while the new town contains the apartment buildings meant to address the city’s rising population. The valley area contains lush greenery while the volcanic crags reveal centuries of geological earth formations. A third space, Edinburgh is a physical as well as a fictional city. , the author of the Harry Potter series lives in Edinburgh and remnants of Edinburgh as a physical city can be observed from her books through medieval buildings, castles, and plateaus overlooking bogs and lakes but Edinburgh also become a fictional place with the existence of a magic school, mythical creatures, and a community of wizards living with unknowing muggles.
Portrayal of Edinburgh through ‘Trainspotting’
‘Trainspotting’, released in 1996, was set in Edinburgh. The film was directed by , who grew up in Lancashire ( 1996). His Irish Catholic background emerges in the film through the contrast that arises between tradition, history, and the old ways with modern perspectives, contemporary life, and the new perspectives. In a certain stage of Boyle’s life, he contemplated entering the seminary to commence priesthood but he did not pursue this plan and instead engaged in theatre before directing movies. There was also a sense of rebellion in the main movie character, representing the rebellion that had when he was discouraged to enter the seminary so he pursued a career very detached from priesthood. The main character was a rebel by choosing an alternative to life through heroin, when everybody else is looking forward to living.
The movie actually gained diverse reviews. On one hand, it was acclaimed as an illuminating movie representing the contemporary metropolitan life. It was nominated in the Academy Awards and won a BAFTA award. On the other hand, it was criticized by socio-civic groups as glorifying drug addiction by portraying the main character’s drug addiction as fun and pleasurable. Despite the negative criticisms, the movie gained iconic popularity with the young generation. After watching the movie, I felt that its sense did not revolve around drugs and drug addiction even if more than fifty percent of the movie showed pot sessions. Contrast in the cityscape was the movie aspect that struck me most because of its common representation in majority of the movie such as the main character who was a mess running in the city streets amidst the serene backdrop of the historic buildings and blue skies. It was not really drug addiction that defined the movie but rebellion from tradition represented by pot during the 1990s.
‘Trainspotting’ is a movie that explores a changing urban landscape. While Edinburgh is known for the Edinburgh castle and its gardens and marsh lands, the city also holds true to its city status with cramped apartment buildings, unhygienic public toilets, and fast-paced life. The latter aspect of the city portrayed in the movie actually exists in Edinburgh. Historical buildings are being overlapped with bars, clubs, shopping centres, graffiti, and other representations of the rave culture. When I walk the streets of Edinburgh, these sites can actually be seen. Drug addiction is a social reality as much as the devastation of historical buildings and sites is a physical reality in Edinburgh.
The movie starts with the main characters running through the streets amidst a background of his narration on the choices that people make. While people commonly make the choice to live life, begin their families, obtain great jobs, and provide for their families, he chose another option, he “chose not to choose life”. They were running through the side streets in between tall brick buildings and they also passed an arch way that frames the characters running towards more brick buildings. As Renton was running at full speed he was hit by a brand new, shiny and black BMW. Again, the movie showed contrast between the old and the new, tradition and modernity, rich and poor, as well as conformity and rebellion. In a way, Edinburgh is a city of contrasts, which can be attested to by the people living there or visiting the place.
The movie ends with the twists in the attempt of Renton to change his life by choosing life. Ironically, the movie ends with Renton stealing the money they gained from stealing heroin and leaving the city to start anew. This scene was ironic because Renton wanted to start life anew but he did this by stealing drug money and abandoning his friends, who in the end he no longer considered as friends but he also left an amount for Spud who saw Renton took the money but did not say anything to the others. The ending is as close to reality or the truth as it can get. On a personal level, the irony rests on the aspects of life that people cannot control so what we can only do is to the give the best that we can as incontrollable situations arise. Renton wanted to change his ways but he was prevented from doing so when he was followed by his friends to London and drew him towards a life of crime. After being given an opportunity to start anew through the money they got from selling heroin, he took the money and ran to another place with a clean slate. On a general level, there are also inevitable occurrences that happen no matter how people try to prevent these such as the changes that occur in society with the advent of the rave culture and other forms of expression of the younger generations so that the defacement of historic sites through graffiti and the rebellion against traditional values is something that is part of the actual evolution of society.
The camerawork of ‘Trainspotting’ realistically captures the characters, sites and sounds but focuses on different aspects meant to be stressed in the movie. The point of view is of a third person viewing the characters and scenes with the shots narrowing or widening depending upon whether the third person is considering the entire view or a particular character, object, or site. This means that the movie intended the film to capture as closely as possible a representation of the life of the characters as they journey through the complexities of life in Edinburgh. Although, the characters are only representative of a certain segment of society, they depict the changes occurring in the city. Through the movie, Edinburgh becomes a place of divergence revealing the reality of the imperfections of the city that resembles life.
Movie soundtrack comes from the rave culture, loud and fast, representing the fast-paced lifestyle of the city. Rock music breaks the silence and calmness of the historical buildings to show the disorder occurring in the metropolis. Again, the purpose is to show contrast and the realization of the burdens of society amidst a serene backdrop.
‘Trainspotting’ is like a documentary that captures the everyday experiences of the characters. This link is supported by the narrative made by Renton during the start of the movie. However, it should also be recognized that the movie was inspired by a fictional novel giving. Again, contrast occurs with a semi-documentary movie derived from a fictional novel.
Overall, the movie was not intended for a particular audience. It appeals to individuals who relate to any of the characters but it also offers a message to society to look at the present status of the community. ‘Trainspotting’ portrayed a real aspect of the city but it only portrayed a particular picture of the city without looking deeply and widely into what Edinburgh is as a whole city.