Breakouts and Outbreaks: Danny Boyle with Trainspotting

Danny Boyle is a rare filmmaker that has made a career of breakouts. His first film Trainspotting is a great debut feature, if somewhat entranced in British culture. 28 Days Later… brought him to American audiences and revitalized the zombie genre forever; and then of course there was Slumdog. In 2008, Slumdog Millionaire pulled one of the most impressive award circuit sweeps in recent memory. This film brought Danny Boyle’s name into millions of households across America. But those who truly follow the world of cinema were well aware of his work before then. All three are breakouts in their own right, but I’m going to focus on his initial feature, because even early on, he demonstrated his enthusiastic visual style we have all come to know and love.

Trainspotting is an odd film to say the least. It reminds me of a comedic blend of Requiem For a Dream and The Full Monty. I would elaborate on that comparison, but I’m really not sure how. I can’t explain why I make that connection, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t. This kind of obscurity is caused by what I consider to be Boyle’s trademark: a juxtaposition of content and style. In Trainspotting, he deals with the serious issue of heroin in a comedic way. With 28 Days Later… he showed us a world of zombies as a dead-serious, sci-fi, apocalyptic tale. That sounds like a cliché now, but at the time it was unique. In Millions, he dealt with complicated moral and personal issues from a child’s perspective. In Slumdog Millionaire, poverty, globalization, and even religious persecution are all shown as a part of a heartwarming, feel-good story. Danny Boyle is a walking a juxtaposition.

These juxtapositions are all complimented by his unique vision and modern imagery. The scene that sticks out in Trainspotting as a clear, “Danny Boyle moment,” is the now famous sequence in which our hero finds himself fully submerged in a toilet to rescue the two, still glowing, white pills. Scenes like this emphasize both the visual style and personality of the eccentric auteur. I consider Trainspotting to be his breakout purely because it possesses all the qualities of his later films, already well-developed; and it was met with immediate praise. It is as though he hit the ground running, without needing much of a warm-up. He truly broke the scene with this one quick shot.

Danny Boyle is a fairly consistent filmmaker. With the exception of The Beach, a sore misstep, he hasn’t faltered once. Whether it is zombies, outer space, a child’s delusions, or a trip to India, he always finds a way to capture his audience and keep them hooked right up until the credits roll. Or, in the case of Slumdog, you’ll be captivated clear through the credits. It is far too difficult to single out one film as his finest achievement, but for the time being, I am going to single out Millions. I doubt many have seen this film, in fact I doubt many have ever heard of it, but it really is a magical film that takes you on a one of a kind journey. It reminds me a little of Where the Wild Things Are in how accurately it depicts a child’s imagination and perspective. It is a great match for Boyle’s visual style.

While Trainspotting is probably not the obvious choice for a true breakout, I consider it to be his because of the artistic integrity represented. And it was enough to jump start his career, which has been both consistent and constant. With his big winner just two years ago, Boyle is back in full force with his journey to the wild side. My only question is: What is the juxtaposition of 127 Hours?

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  • 28 Days Later is my second favorite horror film of all-time, second too The Thing.

  • V

    While I agree that Trainspotting was Boyle’s breakout, it wasn’t his first film. He made Shallow Grave first.

  • Jose

    I would argue that Millions was another misstep.

  • I am aware that Shallow Grave was made first, I don’t remember my rationale in calling Trainspotting his ‘initial film’ but thank you V.

  • Andrew R.

    Summary of Danny Boyle:
    Shallow Grave-Solid debut.
    Trainspotting-Superb.
    Life Less Ordinary-Average.
    Beach-Bad as they say.
    28 Days Later-Excellent.
    Millions-I thought it was OK…way too religious.
    Sunshine-Quite good.
    Slumdog Millionaire-Excellent.

    His best is either Trainspotting or Slumdog Millionaire.

  • @V, I guess I called it ‘initial’ meaning his initial breakout, not his initial film, vague, I will admit. You will notice two or three locations where I avoid actually labelling it his first film.

    My 3-way tie for favorite is Millions, Slumdog, and 28 Days Later…

    Although I think I would love Life Less Ordinary as well, I have yet to see it.

    @Andrew R. being religious is not the films fault, in fact I credit it for being daring in that way.

  • Love Boyle. I even liked The Beach and A Life Less Ordinary. My fave has to be Trainspotting followed closely by Shallow Grave.

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