Literature: Filth

You can kiss mah bacon-flavoured po-leese ass muthafuckah.

"Filth? Ah'll gie the cunt fuckin filth."

"You loved once. Surely everybody does."
The Self

Bruce Robertson is pure filth in every sense of the word. He's a misanthropic, racist, sexist, homophobic and very corrupt sergeant detective working for the Edinburgh "Polis" who, when not satisfying his cravings for drugs, junk food or orgasms, entertains himself by manipulating and tormenting his friends, colleagues, and everyone else he meets with vindictive schemes he calls "the games". His wife's just left him, taking his daughter, but he doesn't spend a whole lot of time thinking about the divorce, preoccupied as he is with his upcoming vacation in Amsterdam, the growing rash on his testicles, a prospective promotion from his hated boss, and the case of the murder of the Ghanian ambassador's son (which he doesn't plan on solving).

When Bruce eats an uncooked gala pie, however, he ingests an existentially-curious tapeworm. The tapeworm, who starts calling itself The Self, strangely seems to have the ability to read Bruce's mind and comment eloquently on his life; eventually, it begins to unearth Bruce's most repressed memories, which quickly explain why he is the way he is.

Written by Irvine Welsh, so expect lots of phonetic Scots, salient characters, petty crime, typographical experimentation, and extremely dark humour. It's got something of a twist ending and is creatively written, so it's the kind of book you have to read twice to get the full understanding of.

A film starring James McAvoy in the lead role was released Oct 2013; the NSFW trailer can be seen here.

Filth contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Bruce's stepfather, who made him eat coal, among other things.
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: Bruce is very fond of the Sun's page three girls. And gymnasts.
  • Arc Words:"How did it make you feel?" Bruce is asked this by a reporter who sees him unsuccessfully try to save a man's life. Dumbstruck by the question, Bruce pushes him aside. In the book's final chapter, it is revealed that Bruce's emotional response is rage and self-loathing at being unable to be a "better" person. It is this rage and self-loathing (which Bruce refuses to acknowledge) that drives much of his antisocial behaviour.
    • "The same rules apply in each and every case." Initially used when Bruce discusses his police work, the line eventually comes to stand for his inability to separate his present circumstances from those of his past.
    • "My methods are my methods are my methods." Bruce learned much of what he does from his stepfather, whose "methods" included making a young Bruce eat coal.
  • Bad Dreams: Bruce gets very little sleep because of these.
  • Break the Cutie: The descriptions of Bruce as a young boy.
  • Broken Bird: Bruce.
    Bruce: I only care about me and about why I don't care about anybody else.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: "How did it make you feel?" again.
  • Berserk Button: Bruce doesn't like being called filth. He really hates sympathy, though.
  • Being Evil Sucks
  • Cain and Abel: In the film, the manifestation of Bruce's subconscious at one point accuses him of killing his younger brother out of jealousy by pushing him off a coal pile which caused to suffocate from being buried in coal, while Bruce insists it was an honest accident. It is left ambiguous if Bruce really did intend to kill his brother on that fateful day or if it is just his guilt and self-loathing making him blame himself for what happened.
  • Child by Rape: Bruce.
  • Comedic Sociopathy: In-story Bruce delights in abusing his fellow citizens, while, for the reader, a good part of the book's humour derives from the crassness with which Bruce handles different situations.
  • Continuity Nod: True to form other Welsh characters make cameo appearances: Mark Renton, Ghostie Gorman, Sick Boy, Spud, Lexo Setterington, Post Connelly, Juice Terry and Francis Begbie are encountered or referenced.
  • Creepy Crossdresser: Bruce.
  • The Cynic: Bruce.
  • Dark Comedy
  • Despair Event Horizon: For Bruce it's when Carole, his wife, leaves him, also taking his daughter.
  • Deus Angst Machina: Let's see: Bruce is the biological son of a famous rapist, which earned him the contempt and hate of his entire hometown before he was six years old. Then his stepfather abused him horrifically. Then he accidentally indirectly killed his younger brother. And his first love. Then he was thrown out of his hometown for joining the police force (even though one of the major reasons he did it was to distance himself from his biological father's criminal reputation with the hopes of earning some respect). Then he moved to Australia, where he saw, among other things, his colleague get systematically tortured to death. And then his wife and child leave him, catalysing a nervous breakdown and suicide. Christ.
  • Depraved Bisexual: "Ghostie" Gorman. Frequents a brothel, and tries to make out with Bruce in the climax.
  • Dirty Cop: Bruce. Some (all, barring Drummond) of his colleagues, like Ray, also qualify to a degree, but unlike him, they're still pretty decent people.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Bruce resents it "more than anything".
  • Driven to Suicide: Bruce, and Gus Bain tries as well. In the movie, it's Dougie Gillman.
  • Downer Ending: Bruce commits suicide to claim revenge on his ex-wife, but his final thoughts are of regret.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: In the movie, just before he hangs himself, Bruce looks into the camera, breaks the four wall by speaking to the audience, and lets out a manic laugh before jumping off the chair.
  • Drugs Are Bad: Bruce really starts to lose it when he gets what he believes to be a particularly bad batch of cocaine from Ray Lennox. The Self tries to keep urging Bruce to give up the drugs.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: During an interrogation, Bruce briefly reflects on the Begbies, Doyles and Wylies. The latter references Larry Wylie, a psycho mate of Begbie's who has minor roles in Glue, Porno and Skagboys. As for Alec "Dozo" Doyle, he's another part of the bampot network, and one of the antagonists in Glue.
  • Erotic Asphyxiation: With Chrissie. Could be seen as Foreshadowing.
  • Evil Albino: The aptly nicknamed Ghostie.
  • Foreshadowing: While Bruce is watching some lesbian porn, a black male comes into the video and completely kills his mood. We latter find out that his ex-wife has been dating - or possibly even remarried to - a black man.
  • Friendless Background: Relationships make Bruce "suspicious".
  • Freestate Amsterdam: Bruce takes a vacation there and does little but take drugs and have sex with hookers.
  • Go Out with a Smile: Bruce, in the film.
  • Ignored Epiphany:
    • In the film, Bruce has such a moment when he pushes DI Drummond against a wall and realizes that he is hurting her. He breaks down, and tearfully admits to her that he knows he is slipping into insanity, that he is a horrible person, and that his wife has left him for reasons he genuinely can't remember. His inner demons soon get a hold of him again and he reverts back to shouting at her that she is a witch who has shagged herself to her promotions.
    • At another point, Bruce almost goes back on his plan to frame Blades as the Phone Pervert, as he realizes that Blades is a innocent and friendly person and he actually likes him. He goes head with the plan a minute later, however.
  • Inferiority Superiority Complex: Bruce's behaviour is actually driven by extreme self-loathing and guilt.
  • Jerk Ass: Bruce, many more.
  • Kavorka Man: The list of Bruce's sexual conquests seems endless. Occasionally he's paying, but quite often the women simply fall for his self-assuredness and greasy charm.
  • Loners Are Freaks
  • Magnificent Bastard: In universe, Bruce believes himself to be this. However, Bob Toal fits this better, as the script he's been writing is actually a ploy to draw Bruce out, as Toal knows that Bruce is responsible for Efan Wurie's murder in the first place, though he won't turn him in.
  • Manipulative Bastard: That Bruce is. Without question.
  • Meaningful Name: The Self is the tapeworm that acts as Bruce's conscience and tells his life story. The Others are other tapeworms representing society in general, forming a crude metaphor for how Bruce interacts with the world.
  • Mood Whiplash: Once the tapeworm becomes self-aware. Any pretense of comedy has been dropped by the second-to-last chapter, "The Tale of a Tapeworm".
  • Narrator All Along
  • Pet the Dog: Any time that Bruce is not feeling overtly hostile towards everyone around him is notable and comes across as this, such as his one-time description of Ray as a "sound cunt".
    • A major one occurs when Bruce unsuccessfully attempts to revive a dying man.
    • His last thoughts are that he doesn't want his daughter to see his suicide.
  • The Pig Pen: Bruce's personal hygiene leaves a lot to be desired. His flannels are always filthy, as he isn't able to operate the washing machine. The one time he manages to get his hands on a clean pair, Hector the Farmer's dog ejaculates over them.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: The movie manages to stay relatively close to the source material and is faithful to the novel's spirit, however, it does cut several aspects of the book that wouldn't work in film in order to make a more cohesive work. Bruce's cruelty is (very slightly) toned down to make him less irredeemable (although he is far from sanitized) and The Self/The Tapeworm is played down, with his role being given to Bruce's psychiatrist, Dr. Rossi. It still makes a brief appearance in one of the film's most intense scenes.
    • In addition, the black man who is murdered by Bruce, has been changed to a Japanese tourist. Also, instead of Bruce being responsible for the murder, he is now merely witness to it while dressed as Carole, leaving Gorman's gang as the true culprits.
  • Sanity Slippage: Bruce is already one sick cookie at the beginning of the story, but any semblance of control he has of his insanity slips away throughout the story.
  • Seven Dirty Words: All of them. Repeatedly.
  • Single Issue Psychology: Averted. Bruce's shitty memories are as numerous as his bad habits.
    • However, some of Bruce's habits are directly explained by single issues in his upbringing (for instance, his gluttonous consumption of junk food and coke addiction are a result of being forced to eat coal:
      The Self: Can you still taste it Bruce? Can you taste the filth, the dirty oily blackness of fossil fuel in your mouth as you choke and gag and spit it out? Can you still hear your father's voice in your head telling you to eat? Eat, eat, eat ... Because I know that it's never left you alone. Now you can eat what you want to eat. For me, for you, for all the Others. Now you can consume to your heart's content or your soul's destruction, whichever comes first.)
  • Start of Darkness: Though the Efan Wurie murder is the novel's main plot, this is its major intrigue.
  • The Snark Knight: Bruce is his own breed.
  • The Sociopath: Bruce, to a certain extent, and also Ghostie Gorman.
  • Therapy Is For The Weak: Bruce.
  • Title Drop: Bruce is called "filth" many times over the course of the novel, but most notably by his father (not his biological father), as narrated by The Self.
  • Tin Man: Bruce actively tries to be this.
    Bruce: Even if I wanted a conscience, which I most certainly don't, where would I go about getting one?
  • Unreliable Narrator
  • The Verse: See Continuity Nod above.
  • Villain Protagonist: Then there isn't really anyone good or heroic around.
  • Vulgar Humor: Try counting the times Bruce's festering rash is graphically described. Or his filthy flannels. Or the texture of his excrements.
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: The Self gives a monologue to this effect near the end of the book.
  • You Are What You Hate: Bruce hates "schemies" despite growing up in a housing project himself. Additionally, there are parallels between his behaviour and that of The Beast, "the one [he] hates the most", despite Bruce's intense desire to prove that he's nothing like him.
    Bruce: We want to make it up... We're no like the scum they put in the prisons... We want to make things right...

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