"Choose your future. Choose life... But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life: I chose something else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you've got heroin?"
"Still, failure, success, what is it? Whae gies a fuck. We aw live, then we die, in quite a short space ay time n aw. That's it; end ay fuckin story."
Trainspotting is a dark and bizarrely written novel by Irvine Welsh, published in 1993, and as many a Rail Enthusiast has probably found out the hard way, has absolutely zip to do with actually looking for trains. Wildly popular, the novel kicked off a two decade long successful writing career.The story follows a group of young Scottish men who are close friends, and their lives of drinking, sex, family problems, HIV, death, and most of all, heroin addiction. The protagonists are Mark Renton, an on-and-off heroin junkie, and his friends Tommy, Danny "Spud" Murphy, Simon "Sick Boy" Williamson, and Francis "Franco" Begbie; childhood pals, they are beginning to drift apart. It's all very darkly humorous and then a baby dies. Noted for its cynical and occasionally shocking tone, the novel has been called "the voice of punk, grown up, grown wise and grown eloquent".Large chunks of the novel are written in heavily accented, stream-of-consciousness style. The initial challenge is to figure out who the main characters are, whose points of view are being shown, which of the dozens of nicknames refer to which people, and what personalities they've got. Because of this, the novel pretty much starts out as an incomprehensible trip — but after a few chapters, things start to click and the plot starts to unfold.It was adapted into a film in 1996 by Danny Boyle, and was the second of three films from the mid nineties directed by Boyle and starring Ewan McGregor, along with Shallow Grave and A Life Less Ordinary. It also features Jonny Lee Miller as Sick Boy, Ewen Bremner as Spud, a scarily emaciated Kevin McKidd as Tommy, Robert Carlyle as Franco Begbie and a youthful Kelly Macdonald as Diane. Allegedly due to a head cold, Kevin McKidd missed being on the iconic poster.The book has a prequel, Skagboys, which chart the descent of the main characters into drug addiction, violence, crime and defeatism. The sequel, Porno, catches up with them ten years later and follows mainly Sick Boy and Renton as they work through their issues with each other while producing a pornographic movie. Together, the three novels form the Leith trilogy of addiction, brutality and soul which has come to define Welsh's output.
Provides examples of the following tropes:
Amazingly Embarrassing Parents: At the celebration dinner following the suspension of his sentence, Mark Renton's mother: tells Begbie and Sick Boy all about her periods. She then pinches Renton's cheek and calls him her wee bairn, gleefully informing Begbie and Sick Boy that he hates being called that; then tops it all off by singing Mark his former 'favorite song,' a little ditty about momma's little baby loving his shortbread. Sick Boy joins in. It's enough to make Renton wish he'd gone to prison instead of Spud.
Ambiguously Bi / Everyone Is Bi: All the main male characters that are in relationships are in relationships with women, but they all also seem to be quite physically affectionate with each other, at least when they're high. Except Begbie. Renton speculates at one point that human beings are bi by default, and it's social pressure that causes most to conform to being heterosexual. The film celebrates the idea by starting off with a gay snog.
Armoured Closet Gay: Begbie in the film. Robert Carlyle played him as a closeted homosexual whose bursts of rage stemmed partially from his fear of being outed, and Word of God agreed with the interpretation. When a girl he's getting frisky with turns out to be a man he amazingly doesn't attack the person in question, which at a glance seems very out of character. It's also insinuated with a scene in which Begbie makes Renton put a cigarette in his mouth, which is charged with sexual tension.
Author Tract: Renton's rant against the British involvement in Northern Ireland and Unionism.
Ax-Crazy: Francis Begbie. He gets physically aroused from violence and hurts people for no reason. In the book, this is a result of both his own sadistic aggression and due to his friends "painting him as the ultimate psychopath" so they'll look cooler by hanging out with him. Interestingly, Renton remembers how Begbie was much more mellow and easy-going as a teenager (when he wasn't yet the toughest guy in the neighbourhood).
Bar Brawl: In the movie, Begbie starts one by tossing his empty pint glass off the balcony to the bar below, and shatters on a young woman's head. Slamming his knife on the table and rubbing his hands together with glee, he goes downstairs and declares that nobody is to leave the bar until the culprit is found. When asked by the girl's boyfriend who he is, Begbie simply kicks him in the balls, starting a massive brawl.
The scene is slightly different in the book—Begbie begins to furiously interrogate the entire bar, playing detective and shouting at the bartender to call the police. The girl's boyfriend sets off the brawl by punching another man. After the massive bar brawl is over, he and Begbie together kick another man to a pulp, and he cheerfully extends his hand to Begbie. Who promptly kicks him in the groin and punches his face in.
Better Than Sex: Several of the heroin junkies praise their drug of choice as being better than sex. Significantly, such comparisons are what lead Tommy to take up the habit after his girlfriend dumps him, with devastating consequences.
Allison: It beats any meat injection. That beats any fucking cock in the world!
Bi the Way: Mark ends up hooking up with a few men over the course of the novel, and doesn't see it as a big deal, although he feels more comfortable with women.
Mark's flings with men are absent from the film, but the relaxed attitude towards same sex relations remains in place, making him Ambiguously Bi in the film.
Black and Gray Morality: At least among the major characters. Some of their family members are good, responsible citizens.
Byronic Hero: Both Renton and Sick Boy qualify, though Sick Boy is more towards the villainy end of the spectrum.
The Can Kicked Him: Nobody dies in them, but toilets provide the setting for some of the movie's nastiest scenes, and at one point Begbie beats a man in a pub toilet until his blood mixes with the urine.
Catholic School Girls Rule: Diane. Subverted in the fact that Renton has no idea she's underage when she picks him up (out of uniform, natch) at a club.
Character Development: The novel is about, in part, Mark's development from heroin addict into the mature adult that appears in Porno.
The first time around, both book- and movie-wise, Dianne is portrayed as a sex-crazed, club-hopping teenager; by the time Porno comes up she's toned her recreational drug use down and she matured into a pretty well-adjusted university student, working on her thesis and being more than capable to hold her own in a conversation. She still loves to party, though.
Serves as an Ironic Echo as this is what Renton states he intends to do with the money he stole from his friends.
Cluster F-Bomb: This is made all the more obvious in the film that was based on this book.
Comforting the Widow: Spud's mother receives this from Renton and his parents, but Begbie twists it into a rant that blames her for her son's imprisonment. In the book, Renton says: "There were no sacred cows for Begbie. Not even old ones from Leith whose laddie had just gone to prison."
Additionally, Mark puts in a great deal of effort comforting his brother Billy's widow immediately after his funeral.
Composite Character: Several in the film. Justified in that the book had such a huge cast that they had to be trimmed for the film.
Country Matters: Probably one of the most frequently occurring words in the dialogue. A particularly notable example (almost Lampshading?) occurs when Mark accuses Sick Boy of being a "sexist cunt", following which Sick Boy points out the absurdity of using the words "sexist" and "cunt" in the same sentence.
Crap Sack World: Renton and his pals use drugs as an escape from the drudgery and misery of mundane life. The dives they shoot up in are, as you'd expect, completely disgusting and filthy, but the rest of Edinburgh isn't exactly portrayed as a cultural beacon either. In fact, the whole place is bleak, grey, and blighted with urban decay.
Creator Cameo: Irvine Welsh as Mikey Forrester, the inept drug dealer who sells Renton some anal opium plugs at the start of the film.
Do Not Do This Cool Thing: Mostly averted. The movie portrays casual drug use as it really is - a series of enjoyable interludes inevitably followed by crashes into depression, sickness, or worse. For the habitual users, their drug fix is a desperate need, and while their lives perhaps remain "fun" by their own definition, they appear squalid, wretched, and disgusting from the perspective of a sober person.
Dramatic Ellipsis: In the movie Renton, while narrating his own inner thoughts in the third person, says them out loud. "Dot, Dot, DOT."
Drugs Are Bad: Seemingly averted at first, but ultimately played straight. Renton gives an articulate and fierce defence of his lifestyle in the beginning, and the gang seem to be living fast and carefree at times, but tragedy and horror strike often. Ultimately Renton leaves the life.
Renton's mother is on Valium, making her, as Renton sardonically observes, also a drug addict, albeit in a more socially acceptable way.
Sick Boy definitely cultivates the image, but it is Renton (at least in the book) that is perhaps closer to actually being this, constantly ruminating on his views on the world, quickly getting a grasp at psychoanalytical ideas when he is being examined and having an understanding on the overall ideas of Kierkegaard. Spud in the book is a failed example of this, constantly saying vaguely coherent rants on the importance of love and taking care of animals. However, he deserves credit for his astute observations regarding other characters, and is fairly well read despite some of it being beyond his comprehension e.g. Crime and Punishment.
Friendly Enemy: In contrast to his friendship with Renton, Sick Boy has this mode of interaction with Begbie. He views Franco as a crass, vicious thug and tenapenny muscle for more dangerous scams. On Begbie's part, he's morally disgusted with Sick Boy's pimping and heroin related activities, but admires his scheming ways otherwise as it brings in money. Renton hates them both when they decide to socially gang up on him, stealing both female attention and parental affection.
It nauseates Renton to see Begbie and Sick Boy playing the great mates, as all they usually generally do is to get on each other's tits.
Friend to Psychos: They don't exactly have to dispose of bodies for Begbie, but his so-called mates are forced into justifying his psychotic fits and bizarre actions as a cowardly form of insurance against his variable temper.
Foreign Cuss Word: The film's poster features Begbie delivering a V-sign, which is a vulgar gesture in Britain. The poster certainly wouldn't have been displayed so prominently in America if he were giving a middle finger.
Freudian Excuse: In the book, Begbie gets some last-minute characterization as it's explained that his father (a derelict alcoholic) abandoned him as a child. Paralleling this is the fashion in which Begbie treats his own children.
In the film, a scene set in a club uses a more realistic audio balance of club music and the characters talking, and as such features subtitles included to let the audience know what they're saying.
Also, if you watch the movie with the subtitle track, certain lines of dialogue have been changed to sound somewhat cynical. The best example is "the worst place in London" being subtitled as "one of London's most desirable properties".
Gambit Roulette: Used and lampshaded in the novel's Bad Blood chapter, where the HIV-positive character Davie pulls this on Alan Venters, the man who gave the HIV to the former's girlfriend by raping her, thus leading to Davie's own contraction of the virus. His plan is to make friends with a dying Venters, so that he is allowed to visit him in hospital, and also seduces the mother of the rapist's only son so that one day she may trust him enough to let him babysit for her. When this happens, Davie drugs the child with a sleep-inducing substance and takes pictures of him, making it look like he violently raped and murdered the boy. Then he shows the pictures to Venters on his deathbed and suffocates him with a pillow, thus filling his last moments in life with immeasurable suffering.The Plan depended greatly on random chance (most significantly on Venters staying alive long enough for all the pieces to fall into place), a fact that Davie is well aware of.
Going Cold Turkey: Renton tries to break free of his heroin addiction this way, but doesn't go all the way.
After his overdose his parents lock him in his room and force Cold Turkey on him.
Good Times Montage: In the film, there's a cool montage when Spud, Renton, and Sick Boy start using heroin again. Predictably, though, the good times don't last.
Groin Attack: Renton does this to a pitbull with an air rifle.
For a vegetarian, Mark, you're a fucking EVIL shot.
Begbie also tends to fight dirty.
Hair-Trigger Temper: Francis Begbie is almost as dangerous to his "mates" as he is to everyone else. Renton even outlines a number of Begbie's myths that the gang must play along with, so as not to get beaten up.
Home Porn Movie: Renton makes off with one made by Tommy and Lizzie. Hilarity does not ensue.
I Ate What?: In the novel, a girl jobbing in a restaurant is hit on by some drunken English Jerkass tourists. She retaliates by putting all kinds of squicky stuff in their food, from blood-soaked tampons to urine.
Idiosyncratic Chapter Naming: Some of the more chilling heroin problems are narrated by Renton in, well, Junk Dilemmas No. 63-67, with italics for emphasis. He only manages to get up to Straight Dilemmas No. 1 by the end of the novel, although his chapters in Porno could easily have been named as such.
More significantly, each grouping of chapters juxtaposes Renton's long and hard transition from a full time junky to a reforming addict against his need to leave Leith behind: Kicking, Relapsing, Kicking Again, Blowing It, Exile, Home and Exit.
Improvised Weapon: As an accomplished brawler, Begbie makes plenty of use of these. The book mentions that he has an arsenal of Stanley knives, knuckledusters, sharpened screwdrivers, and knitting needles (because there's less chance they get stuck in the victim's ribcage). Renton states that he does not actually rate Begbie as a terribly strong fighter without his blades.
In Da Club: Well, sort of, since there are two clubbing scenes, but it's subverted. The music isn't always banging, the lighting isn't always perfect, and not everyone is attractive, stylishly dressed, or having fun. Least of all Renton.
Infant Immortality: Averted when Sick Boy's baby daughter Dawn dies of starvation and neglect.
An in-universe example: Begbie fondly says of Mark: "This is a useless bastard; but he's goat style. A man ay wit. A man ay class. A man not unlike my good self." Immediately following this, Mark snarkily narrates: "Begbie always constructed imaginary qualities in his friends, then shamelessly claimed them for himself." He also notes that in spite of Begbie's fearsome reputation, he's not that good at fighting without using a weapon.
The sleazy, drug-dealing, pimping Sick Boy is supposedly an extremely disgusting human being, but compared to Francis Begbie and Alan Venters, he comes off as just a lovable rogue. He does become a lot worse in the sequel. He's not above blackmailing city officials and pimping out girls for his own ends.
Subverted when you look at the trilogy overall. Sick Boy wants you to think of him as a loveable rogue, all the better for him to manipulate you. He's fooled his friends, anyone he can get business off of, his mother and sisters, Renton's parents (and they are also taken in by Franco and Billy's public personas so clearly aren't the best judges of character) and of course the innumerable women he's been with. He only had two narrated chapters in the original, but got many more in Skagboys and Porno which go a very long way to show you what a scumbag he really is. Combined with other characters narrating about finding out sooner or later about his true nature, the reader is in no doubts he that is an extremely ropey, unlikeable individual. It was to his benefit that Renton and Spud could have been interpreted as giving him a bad press in the original.
A more subtle one: Renton is, presumably, supposedly good at football. We never really get to see his skills, but he does wear the sacred #10 jersey.
Ironic Echo: The "Choose Life" speech. The first time Renton delivers it, he's being sarcastic and cynical. The second time, he's fully sincere about living that life.
Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: Not exactly, since the "heroes" are the ones who introduced him to the habit in the first place, but Tommy goes from soothing the pain of a breakup with drugs to ruining his entire life with drugs in the space of a few scenes.
Karma Houdini: By the end of the story Renton in particular escaped any particular punishment, besides his life threatening withdrawal and his guilt. Subverted or averted in other cases:
Spud did time near the middle of the movie.
Sick Boy and Allison lost their child.
Begbie lost his money and presumably had to deal with the cops in the end.
The sequel establishes that he does end up going to prison for manslaughter.
Mother Superior got his just desserts only in the deleted scenes. He lost one of his legs due to injecting too much heroin into it, and became a homeless beggar.
Alan Venters, a rapist who knowingly gave AIDS to his victim, gets one of the most horrifically justified comeuppances of any character in fiction.
Literal Metaphor: Early in the film, when Renton goes to Mikey Forrester to get his last hit, Mikey gives him opium anal suppositories instead. Realizing that they're the closest thing to heroin that he's going to get, Renton takes them and inserts them into his anus. Cue the following exchange:
Loads and Loads of Characters: Excluding one-shot characters, let's see: Mark, Spud, Sick Boy, Second Prize, Begbie, Tommy, Johnny Swan, Kelly, Alison, Donnelly, Stevie, Alan Venters, Gavin Temperley, Mark's parents and brother - and these are just the characters introduced within the first 70 pages. The cast is cut down significantly in the film to deal mostly with Renton's personal story.
Matzo Fever: Spud's plans for his cut of the money involve settling down with a beautiful, rich Jewish princess.
Mars and Venus Gender Contrast: The two couples in the loud club, when the girls go to the bathroom and the boys remain at the table. Both talk about their relationships with the other, then claim to be talking about safer and more stereotypical subjects when the girls return.
"What are you two talking about?" [Glance at each other] "Football. What are you talking about?" "Shopping."
Mushroom Samba: Inverted - most of the characters' hallucinations take place when they AREN'T on drugs, and aren't pleasant at all.
The Napoleon: In the book, Begbie is a tattooed and physically massive bully, but director Danny Boyle cast the relatively short Robert Carlyle on the belief that smaller guys are more foul-tempered.
Nobody Poops: Thoroughly averted in a disgusting scene where Spud has a hilarious accident with shit, piss and vomit (in the book, semen as well - and Davie is the victim, rather than Spud). Also averted in Renton's sudden attack of diarrhea where he soils his pants. In the film, he goes diving into a filthy public toilet. The filmmakers in the commentary note that the water he swims in was supposed to look disgusting and filled with excrement, but it actually looks quite pleasant.
One Steve Limit: Averted. Renton has Davie the father, Wee Davie the disabled brother, and Davie the workmate/friend.
Parental Abandonment: In the book, Begbie abandons his and June's son. He's previously had kids with other women as well. It's implied that the same thing happened to him as a child; Renton and Begbie run into an "auld drunkard" in a train station who Renton only later realizes was Begbie's father (this scene also provides the book's title, as Begbie's father asks the two if they are "trainspottin'").
He's present in Skagboys, until his unfortunate passing.
Potty Emergency: Renton's leads to his encounter with the famed "Worst Toilet In Scotland".
Renton: (narrating) Heroin makes you constipated. The heroin from my last hit was fading, and the suppositories had yet to melt.
[moans loudly, doubles over]
Renton: I'm no longer constipated.
Potty Failure: Spud has a memorable one, when he fills his girlfriend's bed with thin alcohol-vomit, semen, piss and diarrhea. When the girlfriend's mother tries to take the soiled bedsheets, Spud is so embarrassed he holds them back, and they get into a tugging match - which ends with the whole family getting sprayed with it.
Pragmatic Adaptation: The screenwriter John Hodge has pretty much said he considered the book unfilmable, so huge amounts were cut and new bits added to give the remaining fragments some sense of being part of an actual narrative.
Same Language Dub: The first 20 minutes of the film were redubbed to make the thick Scottish accents comprehensible to an American audience. The Region 1 DVD releases restored the original audio.
interestingly, the subtitles (or at least the Netflix ones) have the original slang; bird/girl, post/mail, skag/smack etc.
Sex Equals Love: Averted with Mark and Dianne in both the novel and film adaption. That said, they end up together at the end of Porno, making this trope applicable even though it takes them ten years to get there.
Single Issue Psychology: Subverted: when Mark is undergoing rehab he sees a succession of psychologists and counselors, each of whom try to attribute his heroin addiction to a single event in his life or facet of his personality (guilt over his brother Davie's death, his refusal to integrate himself into society). Mark, to his credit, doesn't believe a word of it.
Sociopathic Hero: Begbie's friends try to treat him this way, though he turns his rage on them often enough.
Soundtrack Dissonance: Lou Reed's "Perfect Day" plays as Renton has a near-fatal heroin overdose, though the song is probably about Lou Reed's heroin addiction.
Smug Straight Edge: Second Prize, Begbie and Tommy initially take this attitude, pouring scorn on their junkie mates. As it turns out though, they're not much better. Second Prize drinks like a fish, above and beyond any other character. Begbie is a heavy drinker, coke and speed user, and of course has his violence addiction. And Tommy has done every recreational drug available... up to and including the skag, to his great cost.
Unless you drink as much as Second Prize, you're not really an alcoholic in Irvine Welsh's literary universe. This is Scotland, after all.
There Is Only One Bed: In the film, Begbie robs a jewellery shop with a replica pistol and hides out in Renton's bedsit. They end up having to share the bed, where Begbie twitches and convulses in his sleep. When Sick Boy joins them and the three of them end up sharing, Renton decides he's had enough and sends them to a flat he has trouble renting out.
Spud, particularly when he's been shooting up. For most of the movie, an incoherent Scottish mush comes out of his mouth that's impossible to understand for people outside Edinburgh. In the book, his narrated chapters feature the thickest dialect.
Begbie's chapters in the books are often unreadable because he's so full of profanity and swears so much at the expense of actually describing what's going on. A particularly memorable chapter is the very short one in which every single person is referred to as 'that cunt' with maybe the odd character attribute thrown in to help you along your way.
Unsettling Gender-Reveal: In the movie, but not the novel. One of Begbie's club hookups turns out to be packing a salami surprise. His reaction is predictable, though much less violent than might have been anticipated. In the book, this happened to Renton, not Begbie. However, as opposed to panicking, Mark admits to probably just being bisexual and ends up getting to third base with him. Eventually, the violently homophobic Begbie caught Renton fondling the transvestite and beat him until he couldn't walk for a couple days.
Unusual Euphemism: The "Morningside speed" Spud takes for his job interview is a slang term for cocaine. Morningside is one of the more affluent suburbs of Edinburgh, with the implication that people there are rich enough to afford cocaine rather than using amphetamines.
The Verse: A rough example. All of Irvine Welsh's books take place in the same universe, so the Trainspotting characters sometimes have fleeting cameo appearances in Welsh's other works. The extremely disturbing book Marabou Stork Nightmares (which is Nausea Fuel on paper) was his second book, and the rapist Lexo from that book makes an appearance in this one. Scary as he is, he is terrified of his "friend" Frank Begbie.
Villain Protagonist: Mark Renton. He is after all, a heroin addict who shoplifts, sells drugs, takes sexual advantage of his late brother's widow, and steals thousands of pounds from his friends. He promises the audience that he's going to lead a normal life from then on, however.
Vitriolic Best Buds: Renton and Sick Boy. In the book, Renton notes that the back-and-forth insults which began as jokes are becoming more and more deeply meant. By the end of the novel it becomes barely concealed mutual hatred come Porno.
In a way, Sick Boy would understand, even have a grudging admiration for his actions. His main anger would be directed at himself for not having the bottle to do it first.
With Friends Like These...: Everyone is terrified of Begbie, and they all understand that he could turn on them at the drop of a hat. In the book, Renton elaborates that Begbie's friends have to pretend to believe several myths about him to keep in his good graces.
Word Salad Title: The title seems to be nonsensical, but it's a shortening of the original short story's title "Trainspotting at Leith Central Station". The joke is that the station is long-closed and derelict, so trainspotting there is an utterly pointless, dull and squalid experience, like most things the characters do. No one "trainspots" or even says the word in the film. In the book there is a brief scene where an old drunk later implied to be Begbie's father asks Renton and Begbie if they are trainspotting. The term is a slang reference to a junkie's search for a vein to inject drugs in. Fans often speculate as to the various levels of significance the title has to the story's themes.
Wouldn't Hit a Girl: Viciously averted by Begbie and Alan Venters. Subverted by Second Prize: when he sees Venters beating up his girlfriend in the pub, he remembers his dad telling him never to hit a girl, advice he claims to have followed; but then observes that holding his girlfriend so she can't walk away from their arguments doesn't really count. Renton disagrees, and says it's the same principle.
Also, when Second Prize and Tommy tries to stop Venters publicly beating up his girlfriend, the woman suddenly turns into a Violently Protective Girlfriend, and viciously attacks Tommy with her nails. Even though he's shocked by the sudden assault, his "don't hit girls" instinct is so strong that instead of doing anything to her, he turns around and punches Venters instead.