Big budget events and artistic integrity are not two things that often work well together. With the new found popularity of CGI replacing real life and the booming 3D industry, many directors choose new technology to draw the audience in. One of the exceptions to this rule is Danny Boyle, a director that can balance mainstream audience appreciation with artistic beauty. Maintaining his trademark depictions of poverty, substance abuse, raw human pain, and the ability to show beauty in the ugliest of places, it is curious how Boyle so effectively speaks to such a wide audience.
The main stream media went crazy for Boyle’s adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting in 1996, a film which is still extremely popular today. True to Welsh’s novel, Boyle thrust Scottish social problems on to the global big screen, providing a stunningly derelict insight to a world unknown and ignored by many. It was a huge success and maintains a massive cult following today. Internal monologues of heroin addicts have become strewn across the bedroom walls of millions of students; the middle classes drawn in by the name of Ewan McGregor were given an insight in to a world of poverty and addiction that was shown to be close to their own reality and home.
Pain and suffering are huge themes in Boyles work, and it runs through many of his other films. Slumdog Millionaire highlighted the intense poverty of millions of Indian people, and the manner in which they are brutally denied the chance to improve their lives. In 127 Hours, Boyle focussed the depiction of suffering upon one real life individual; portraying Aran Ralston’s traumatic experience upon becoming trapped in the Blue John Canyon in Utah. Despite the huge audiences that turned out for this film, each audience member was placed in to the position of complete isolation and the most basic of human pain, dealing with the mental, physical, and emotional distress experienced. He achieved this not with overblown special effects, but with music and real scenery. Such was the intensity of this film, several audience members were hospitalized after experiencing panic attacks and sickness.
Beyond depicting the grim beauty in the most deprived and depressed of places, Boyle maintains a curious musical accompaniment for which he is as well known for as the films themselves. The thumping 90s club classics alongside images of heroin addicts going cold turkey combines the wealth and prosperity of a culturally rich area with that of the depressed and desolate world of the addict, showing that neither worlds are ever too far from one another.
Some may find it curious how this visionary that focuses upon the most extreme experiences and emotions was chosen as the director of the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony. This is an event that has, in recent years, become an excuse to show off the world’s most expensive firework display. However, Boyle’s choice to focus upon the recent history of Britain, alongside the use of volunteers from all backgrounds ensured not only an emotional event, but one that argues the case of inclusion even further than his previous cinematic works.
Boyle created an event, dubbed ‘Isles of Wonder’, that simultaneously depicted the very best and worst of British culture. The controversy sparked by his inclusion of same sex and interracial relationships shows a society that is not yet willing to accept equality for all. ‘This is for everyone’ was emblazoned across the stands, showing that the Olympic Games are a fantastic opportunity for people to be given a platform when they otherwise go unheard.
Despite his most recent and successful films being based in countries far and wide, Boyle has also maintained a sense of Britishness that shone through the entirety of the Opening Ceremony. It is no surprise that people from many other countries could not understand the majority of the scenes, but Boyle’s intention did not seem to be to please the masses. Indeed, many conservative British citizens were shocked and upset by the glorification of institutions such as the NHS and women’s rights movements. Political agenda may have been an undeniable under current and yet never did anyone feel excluded. The entire event was a love song to Britain and its ever changing culture and celebration of youth. Cultural scars may have been lightly painted over but Boyle never refused to depict Britain as it is – a wonderful country yet one with an undeniably troubled vein.
Danny Boyle does not just depict human suffering for the sake of shock. It is depicted because it needs to be shown to as wide an audience as possible. He shows the true meaning of poverty, pain, substance abuse and repression with the stunning combination of realism and the spectacular. He proves that the world of poverty and the world of wealth, whether monetary or cultural, are never far apart, and he is a stunning spokesman for those without voice. His films are successful because they represent the unrepresentable; they have a timeless quality because he ensures the true beauty of the world, with all its scars and problems, is shown as it is. And for these reasons, Danny Boyle was and continues to be one of the United Kingdom’s greatest directors.