Human Traffic and Trainspotting films review

British films made since 1990 do not merely cater for audience’s tastes but have moulded them. Debate/discuss this statement with reference to at least 2 films (Human Traffic and Trainspotting) you have studied.

Human Traffic and Trainspotting are two British films, which were and still are highly stylised, highly hyped and highly recommended by critics and audiences alike. Both films were produced by British production company’s fruit salad and film four respectively with young exciting directors and writers Justin Kerrigan, Danny Boyle, John Hodge and Irvine Welsh respectively. The films are based in major British cities Cardiff and Edinburgh and perhaps more importantly both films deal with the lifestyle and effects of the use of different drugs heroin and ecstasy.

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The idea of drug use as a major factor in a film confronted cinemagoers and critics head on. Indeed the topic of drug use in British films and television was only briefly thought about with the BBC producing the ‘half hearted’ series Loved up where taking any drug appeared to imply that you:

‘…Take an E and descend into a grimy world of greasy cafes, shouty parents and existential gloom where a bottle of water was your only friend.’

Drug use was condemned in the media and in any television program it featured on, with the campaign that followed the Lisa Betts tragedy and an episode of Coronation Street where Tracey Barlow went to hospital as a result of ‘poppin’ an E. This representation of ecstasy in the media was to many users of the drug not a fair one, as a result Kerrigan decided to write a screenplay from a users point of view.

Unlike ecstasy heroin did not even receive any kind of coverage by the media and certainly not to the extent of ecstasy did. There was no ‘Lisa Betts’ type cases where a young girl had a hit and died; when it came to heroin the only victims were ‘Smack heads’ who ODed. Ecstasy was labelled the ‘rave’ drug and heroin the labelled the ‘AIDS’ drugs, a label which meant no one wanted to think about never mind writing a novel about it except a former addict Irvine Welsh.

Understanding where the inspiration for the films came from can help an audience to understand why the two films are so stylised, gritty and realistic.

Human Traffic was billed as the definitive clubbing movie in it’s add campaign and so really chose it’s own target audience, attracting an audience which was a mix of clubbers past and present and curious none clubbers. Trainspotting searched for any one who was interested, with a massive advertising campaign designed to draw the publics attention, and with Sean Connery’s comments on the film it is not hard too see why it did so well: ‘…everyone must see this movie, at least once if not more!’ Human Traffic struggled in vain to get away from the ‘follow up’ to Trainspotting tag it was given, but it is not hard to see why. An un-English location like Trainspotting, the plot focuses on a group of ‘friends’, like Trainspotting and the most important factor it focused on drugs. To some extent the films are ‘cousins’ there related but not 100% genetically, Human Traffic explores what it is actually like to choose life instead of letting drugs dominate and destroy it, so in that way they are related.

Human Traffic’s billboard campaign closely resembled that of the 1996 success with the main characters posing in ‘Trainspottingesque’ styles. Many critics supported Kerrigan’s production with comments like:

‘…The last great film of the nineties…’- Guardian

And

‘…Forget Trainspotting…’-Times

However more independent film critics gave Human Traffic a tough time saying that it ‘didn’t live up to expectations’ and was a copy of ‘Tarantino and Trainspotting’. Some of this is justified with the example of MOFF’s ideas that Star Wars is about intergalactic Smack dealers closely resembling dialogue in Tranatino films. However this is out of context as MOFF is on drugs at the time and could be seen to be simply talking ‘cod shit to strangers’ as JIP would say and emphasising the reality of drug use.

Both films follow a group of people on their own individual journeys through drug use. The first point of comparison has to be the different relationships the two groups have. In Human Traffic the group is a tightly knit group who enjoy each other’s company, however in Trainspotting the group of ‘so called’ friends spend most of their time wondering why they actually hang around with each other. This is related to the different drugs, in Trainspotting the characters all have their own affairs with heroin and each character has to donate most if not all of their time too providing money to keep their highly volatile relationship alive. In Human Traffic the characters use ecstasy as apposed to ecstasy using them, they all ‘choose life’ for 5 days a week but for 2 nights they delve into another way of life and one that to be honest seems fun, indeed the only draw backs seems to be paranoia and a shrivelled penis!

The main protagonists (apart from the drugs!) are similar; JIP and Renton both start their relationship with the audience in a similar manner. Renton fills us in with his comments on life and choosing it, while JIP informs us why we are ‘Lucky, lucky people’ the reason why we are so lucky is of course because we are ‘fucktioning human beings’ and can have sex.

This clearly shows a major difference between the two films, Trainspotting questions an audience about their lives and also shows a 1 and a half hour snippet of a heroin addicts. Human Traffic however tries to identify with an audience and comment on a shared experience that most of the audience may have had. The only point in Human Traffic where the audience is questioned is when MOFF confronts his ‘perfect family’ about their own moral values and even this is done in a comical manner. Indeed MOFF is the only character in Human Traffic who remotely resembles any of the Trainspotting characters, he is described as a ‘pill monster’ and is unemployed however drugs are not the cause of his malfunctions instead the boredom of work and life instead are attacked by the cockney no mark.

In Human Traffic Renton’s assumptions about life, work and relationships are proved right. The relationship between LULU and Tyler is a perfect example, they have a socially acceptable but boring relationship for a while but in the long run it wasn’t worth the effort, however JIP and LULU’s relationship seems to be the one Renton is missing out on and longing for. The two have a laugh, have a drink, take drugs and have sex together, this is what Renton longs for but can never achieve because of his omnipotent addiction.

A quite sinister comparison between the films arises in a scene where KOOP sells a record too a young ‘hip-hop junky’, KOOP gives this kid the hard sell and after this the kid has little option but to buy the record for �20. �20 is also the price Renton pays for heroin in Trainspotting, and no doubt like the young kid in Human Traffic he was enticed with a mix of peer pressure, curiosity and a drug dealer to buy the drugs. In this sense KOOP is a dealer who is much more dangerous than MOFF who sells cannabis, KOOP actively tries to ‘get the kids hooked’ as JIP says while MOFF deals ‘party prescriptions’ to pay his way through the weekend.

Another connection too the two films come in the form of an institution. In Human Traffic KOOP’s insane father is kept in an institution and is a victim of ‘Life’, he choose life decided to have a wife but she died and caused KOOP’s dad to go mad. Renton would use that as a prime example of the harm choosing life can have, and indeed Renton and his friends take full advantage preying on unsuspecting victims of the system and stealing their drugs.

All these comparisons between the films help to highlight a key fact: both films question an audience, Trainspotting shows an extreme alternative to ‘choosing life’ while Human Traffic offers an escapist route exploring drugs for a weekend. Both films make the statement that life itself is boring with a regimented set of rules to follow and obey, both also offer another way drugs. In the case of Trainspotting heroin itself engulfs a user and ruins their life, while in Human Traffic a user has complete control and ecstasy is a catalyst to enhance their weekends quality. This implies drug use is a good thing as long as you use the right one.

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