Friday, November 30, 2012

Choose Life: An Ode to Trainspotting's Opening Monologue

My love of cinema grew into full bloom in the mid-1990s, at a time when I had moved from my isolated hometown to a city with an art house theater and video rental stores that carried foreign films.  One fateful night, near the beginning of my junior year of college, I went with my best friend to see Trainspotting, a film that both of us became instantly and totally obsessed with.  I saw it at least twice in the theater, and dropped lines from the film into conversation at every opportunity.

Beyond its obvious quality as a film, it appealed to my lifestyle at the time, which I guess you could call  "chickenshit bohemian."  I had developed a pretty intense dislike of mainstream American society, but wasn't brave enough to drop out of it, or cool enough to pass as a real, honest to God bohemian.  You could say that I was a nerd with hipster predilections.  Unable to truly rebel, I got off on the works of Hunter S. Thompson and William Burroughs, vicariously experiencing the drug-addled benders that I'd never have in real life.  I listened to lots of Velvet Underground to boot, blasting "Sister Ray" with abandon.

Needless to say, when Trainspotting began with Iggy Pop's "Lust For Life" blaring out of the speakers and Ewan McGregor intoning the classic monologue about "choosing life" I was hooked like the addicts in the film.  By "life" it means conventional consumerist existence unto meaningless death.  This pretty well summed up my feelings about my probable future at the time, and even if I wasn't choosing heroin, I was desperately hoping not to choose the kind of life that main character Mark Renton described.  Of course, his unconventional lifestyle ends up becoming a nightmare, with a dead baby, violence, disease, and overdoses.

That didn't stop me from buying a poster with the words of the "choose life" speech written on it, something I positioned above my bed so that I could see it every day, a reminder of the need to keep my sights on something higher.  Fifteen years later, my bohemian pretensions are mostly memories.  I'm married with two kids, worried about being able to afford a home, and hold the eminently respectable job of high school teacher.  I'm pretty happy too, much happier than I used to be in my faux Henry Miller years.  That said, I'm not beyond popping Trainspotting into the DVD player from time to time, for a vicarious reminder of the edgy person I tried to fool myself into believing I could be.

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