The success of Trainspotting’s soundtrack
If you were to ask me for a movie recommendation solely based on its soundtrack, I’d probably recommend Trainspotting. The music in the film is famously catchy and invigorating which is exemplified in its opening scene which I will focus on exclusively for this article.
Trainspotting is a Scottish film that came out in 1996 that’s about drug addiction, crime, changing times and friendship. The Trainspotting opener can be divided into three parts: the visuals on screen, the background score Lust for Life by Iggy Pop and the monologue spoken by the film’s protagonist, Mark Renton.
The opening scene of any film is very important; it’s the hook, and it’s setting the tone for the rest of the movie. One must figure out a way to build excitement and give a good reason for the audience to stick around for the rest of the film. Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting not only accomplishes excitement and intrigue in its opening sequence, but also irony and commentary into the film’s deeper themes.
We jump right into the action of the film as we see two characters being chased down the street by police. Lust for Life begins playing as well, the song’s fast catchy tune almost appears to be fueling the character’s stamina as they run.
Then, Mark Renton’s voice-over utters the first words of the film: “choose life.” This was the slogan for a 1980’s anti-drug campaign and even made an appearance on the attire of Wham!’s musicians in the music video for their hit single ‘Wake me up before you go-go’ an upbeat, happy song, in stark contrast to Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life, which seems fast-paced and aggressive at times.
In any event, Iggy’s wordless intro continues playing as Renton rants over the action on the screen. Renton advises the audience to choose the luxuries of life, he says to choose jobs, family and television sets among other devices life has to offer.
One of the men (Renton, as a title card tells us) runs into the front of a car creating an iconic shot of him laughing into the camera at his own misfortune. Renton relays what other luxuries should be chosen including friends as we cut to a soccer match Renton is playing with his mates.
The game proceeds with Renton’s continued advice and we only cut away when Renton finishes his recommendation with ‘Choose your future. Choose life.” The ball knocks Renton in the head causing him to fall over.
Now Iggy’s lyrics finally are set free ‘Here comes Johnny Yen again’ as Renton falls over we cut to him falling over in a heroin den after experiencing a hit. “But why would I want to do a thing like that?” Renton trivializes.
Iggy Pop’s lyrics too begin questioning the luxuries of life and the standing of the average Joe (or average Johnny in this case). He says that Johnny has liquor and drugs with him, saying that he’s bought into ‘the gimmick’, that Iggy says is “something called love.” Calling into question the very nature of human relationships, an idea that will be prevalent in the rest of the film.
Lust for Life talks about the banal life of the typical joe which most live in while ironically throwing in the chorus that the average joe will typically say a variation of “I have a lust for life!” when this is clearly not the case.
This is when Renton comes in disregarding all of the things he just told the audience to do by comparing it to his own choices: “But why would I want to do a thing like that?” Renton asks. “I chose not to choose life, I chose something else. And the reasons?”
This answer sums up Renton’s character as a whole; “There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you have heroin?” The rest of the opening follows the others at the heroin den shooting up, two of whom are Renton’s own friends from the soccer match.
Iggy’s mockery of, as he puts it, ‘the modern guy’ proceeds while Renton discusses the joy of heroin and how the media in his opinion doesn’t really understand the practice.
This tone and its ideas are present throughout the rest of this fantastic film as we view the evolution of Renton and the world around him.
This scene, if anything, proves that for a masterpiece opening scene, onscreen action, killer music, and powerful meaning by themselves aren’t enough. All of them together are what is required for such a memorable opener.