ByNatasha Price, writer at
Natasha Price

Though it isn't very popular, the social realism genre does turn out some amazing fims. Along with rom-coms, Britain is best known for the Social Realism genre and for good reason. British social realism films tend to include lots of mature themes and realistic plot lines, meaning that they're not popular because most people go to films for escapism, and social realism doesn't provide this.

With this in mind, Trainspotting has become one of the most well-known and liked British social realism films of all time. The film was released in 1996 and was directed by Danny Boyle (who is popular for his social realism films). Trainspotting is set in Edinburgh, Scotland and follows the story of Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor), a young drug addict trying to get clean and sort out his life, despite the negative influence of his friends.

What makes this film so good is that you become incredibly invested in the story and main character, to the point that you feel disappointed whenever he relapses. The film also has elements of fantasy, drama and romance that make it more enticing to those who aren't a fan of social realism.

The way Mark narrated the story made the film particularly interesting as it afforded a outsider's point of view, and gave the impression that everything had already been decided and was out of his control - almost like a metaphor for his drug addiction.

This social realist movie was particularly relatable to the audience, because even if the drugs and crime aren't something in your life, most people have friends like Mark's outrageous and pressuring pals. Also, the way Mark tries to get away from his problems (and his friends), as they keep following him is something most people can understand.

Mark (front) with his friends
Mark (front) with his friends

As with most social realist films, Trainspotting had an open ending. Although it was implied what was going to happen, it was never specified whether or not Mark relapsed after the events of the film. Open or unexpected endings are often used in social realist films to leave the audience thinking about the last few moments of the film.

In Trainspotting's case, this was Mark's iconic "Choose life" speech, in which he detailed why people should chose all the normal, 'adult' things over risking a life of drugs and crime. After the events of the film, this speech was particularly effective for the viewer as you can see the consequences of not "choosing Life" through Mark and his friends.

The ending also offered little to no closure on his friends, meaning that for the three of them, it was down to the viewer's interpretation of what happened after the film. It seemed likely that Begbie (Robert Carlyle) ended up in prison, and his other two friends, Sick Boy (Johnny Lee Miller) and Spud (Ewan Bremmer) continued their life of drug abuse and crime. However, we're positioned to side with the protagonist on the subject of drugs - who now believes not using them leads to a better life.

Perhaps the biggest reason the film is popular is because of the grim reality that Boyle chose to portray in the film. Although all Social Realism films are negative and grim, this one is more grim than most with scenes such as a baby dying and a toilet literally covered in excrement. Boyle chose to hold nothing back, and it seemed to have paid off - although it didn't draw in a wide-variety audience, it was a big hit among social realist fans, making sixteen million and gaining an Oscar nomination.

Overall, despite the unpopularity of the genre, Trainspotting managed to become one of the most famous social realist films of all time and has become a staple for the genre.


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