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Literature / Filth

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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, lots of profanity 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 adaptation starring James McAvoy in the lead role was released Oct 2013; the NSFW trailer can be seen here.

Ray Lennox (Jamie Bell) got his own spin-off novel called Crime in 2008.


The Book provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Bruce's stepfather, who made him eat coal, among other things.
  • Accidental Murder: As a child Bruce knocked his brother Stevie into a coal bunker, accidentally killing him.
    • Again with his first girlfriend, when throwing a metal golf pin near her attracted lightning.
  • 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.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: "How did it make you feel?" again.
  • Berserk Button: Bruce doesn't like being called filth. He really hates sympathy, though.
  • Bestiality Is Depraved: Bruce at one point attempts to create a porno using a friend's dog and a new girl from a local brothel. Ultimately falls through; the dog is more interested in Bruce's leg than the intended target.
  • Bigger Is Better in Bed: Opinion of the Size Queen.
  • Break the Cutie: The descriptions of Bruce as a young boy.
  • Broken Bird: Bruce graudually reveals himself to be a somewhat rare male example.
    Bruce: I only care about me and about why I don't care about anybody else.
  • Brotherhood of Funny Hats: Bruce is a member of what is implied to be the Freemasons, referred to as "The Craft". Most of his police collegues are members as well with the implication that being a member is good for an officer's career. As it goes, it's a glorified drinking club.
  • The Cameo: Being an Irvine Welsh novel, several characters from Trainspotting either appear or are referenced. Bruce himself appears briefly in Skagboys and Amanda Drummond turns up in A Decent Ride.
  • 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
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: Bruce is very fond of the Sun's page three girls. And gymnasts.
  • Despair Event Horizon: For Bruce it's when Carole, his wife, leaves him, also taking his daughter.
  • Destination Defenestration: Bruce bites off a chunk of Gorman's tongue and tosses him out of the window in the book's climax.
  • 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.
    • Actually part of that is fiction: Bruce as Carol, talks about Costas his colleague being tortured, but in the very next chapter narrated by Bruce he reminises that he made up "a load of bullshit" about a guy who got tortured and "Carol would believe anything".
  • 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 Andrew Clelland 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.
  • Drop the Hammer: A claw hammer is used by Bruce to finish off Efan Wurie after Gorman and Setterington are finished with him.
  • 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.
  • Fallen Hero: When he finally snaps, Bruce confides to Drummond that he was once a good cop. The Self backs this up, knowing that Bruce was good once, but his abusive childhood coupled with Carole finally leaving him for good has broken him.
  • Foreshadowing: While Bruce is watching some lesbian porn, a black male comes into the video and completely kills his mood. We later 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.
  • Hired to Hunt Yourself: Bruce is the one who murdered Efan Wurie and is leading the investigation to solve the murder. He basically spends the entire book dragging the whole thing out.
  • Hope Spot: At his absolute lowest point, Bruce once again meets the wife and child of the man he attempted to save. They exchange numbers and one would think, perhaps, that it's a ray of sunshine offering him hope of a new family and happiness. Ultimately, he hangs himself shortly thereafter.
  • I Have No Son!: Bruce's father says it after Bruce kills his brother.
  • Inferiority Superiority Complex: Bruce's behavior is actually driven by extreme self-loathing and guilt.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Implied in the film. He's played by classic Pretty Boy actor James McAvoy, who had to put on weight to get into the role - it's implied that Bruce did the same thing in-universe after the divorce.
  • Jerkass: 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. In the film, it helps that he's played by James McAvoy, but then deconstructed towards the end of the film when others point out that a lot of the women he sleeps with are intoxicated and he is taking advantage of them instead of actually winning them over.
  • 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.
  • Men Can't Keep House: Bruce's house gets increasingly squalid as the book goes on. Since Carole left him, he lets his dirty laundry build up, doesn't wash the dishes and can't cook beyond heating up ready meals and takeaways in the microwave. He notes that the only thing he is able to do around the house is build a fire. This also contributes immensely towards his increasingly poor personal hygiene.
  • Mid-Suicide Regret: Bruce hangs himself at the end while wearing a t-shirt with "You caused this" written on it, intending for his wife to find him like that. She ends up walking in with their daughter while he's dying, he regrets and tries to save himself, but fails.
  • Mockstery Tale: The actual plot has little to do with the murder investigation, instead being more of a Mind Screwy psychological drama. Not to mention Bruce is the murderer himself.
  • 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: The "Carole" chapters eventually turn out to be Bruce in drag.
  • No Dead Body Poops: Averted. The very last sentences are the worm narrating his own death as he's evacuated after Bruce's.
  • 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.
  • Rank Up: One of the major elements of the plot is the upcoming promotion competition for the rank of Inspector. Bruce spends much of his time backstabbing the other applicants by attempting to sabotage their chances. Ultimately subverted in Bruce's case, as the events of the book show that he's clearly not mentally fit for the job and Toal withdraws Bruce's application, leaving the promotion to go to Ray Lennox.
  • 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.
  • Shout-Out: Bruce is angered to find that someone has defaced a bathroom stall with the phrase "Part man, part spastic, zero cop: Robbo Cop. The Future of Law Enforcement, my arse."
  • 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?
  • The Unfavorite: Everyone, particularly Bruce's father preferred his brother Stevie.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Bruce is this in spades, due to his substance abuse, mental illness and tendency to lie.
  • Uranus Is Showing: Bruce says "Okay baby, let's take this rocket to Uranus'' to a prostitute after watching a sci-fi themed porn movie.
  • The 'Verse: See Continuity Nod above.
  • Villain Protagonist: Then again, there isn't really anyone good or heroic around. Especially since Bruce is actually the one who murdered Efan Wurie.
  • Vulgar Humor: Try counting the times Bruce's festering rash is graphically described. Or his filthy flannels. Or the texture of his excrements.
  • Write Who You Knowed: In universe, Bob Toal does this with the script Bruce finds on his computer. He bases characters on Bruce, Drummond, and himself. This isn't just something he's doing to tickle his fancy; It's a deliberate ploy to draw Bruce out and Toal knows Bruce is the killer.
  • 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...
  • Your Costume Needs Work: When Mary and her son find a drunk, shabby-looking Bruce buying drink in the supermarket, he pretends he's undercover as an alcoholic.

The Film Filth provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Bruce in the film adaptation, due to being played by James McAvoy.
  • Adaptation Dye-Job: Carole's hair goes from black to blonde.
  • Adaptational Heroism: Downplayed. Bruce isn't any less evil than in the book, barring the fact that he isn't the murderer, doesn't let an underage girl finish giving him a blowjob (and that was only because he was disappointed at her technique!) and leaves a video confession/apology for Clifford Blades.
  • Ascended Extra: Dr. Rossi, sort of. He only appears in person once, but keeps showing up in Bruce's head. He also takes the tapeworm's role, even being represented as such in the closing credits.
  • Badass Longcoat: Bruce wears a pretty nice looking dress coat over his suit that reaches about his knees. He later dons a black and white fur lined one while dressed as Carole. It’s in this coat that he bites off Gormon’s tongue and throws him out a window during the climax.
  • Being Evil Sucks: Bruce loses all of his friends and family and is reduced to a nervous, hollow shell of a man purely because of his own lust, greed, wrath and neurotic ambition.
  • 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 him 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.
  • Color Motif: Something orange appears in almost every scene in the film.
  • Composite Character: Karen Fulton and The Size Queen are merged into the one person in the film. Justified in that Fulton was only a minor character and the Size Queen only really had any interaction during the photocopied penis scene.
  • Creative Closing Credits: The credits feature an animated short in which the various characters are represented as cute cartoon animals (with Bruce being fittingly represented by a pig) and their habits being masked as simple cartoon hijinks (Bruce snorting a line of milk).
  • Despair Event Horizon: Robertson not only misses his desperate bid for promotion as a result of the events. Which, in his mind, would have convinced his wife, Carole, and daughter, Stacey, to come back to him. But he is also demoted to Constable and is reassigned to uniform, while rookie Ray Lennox is promoted to Detective Inspector.
  • Driven to Suicide: Bruce. Dougie Gillman tries as well.
  • Downer Ending: The movie ends with Bruce Robertson preparing to commit suicide by hanging himself, whilst Blades receives a tape of Bruce apologising.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: Just before he hangs himself, Bruce looks into the camera, breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience directly by repeating his catchphrase — "Same rules apply" — and laughs as the chair breaks under him. However, the effect is undercut somewhat by the fact that his eyes are full of tears.
  • Creepy Crossdresser: Bruce.
  • The Cynic: Bruce.
  • Dark Comedy
  • Erotic Asphyxiation: With Chrissie.
  • Ignored Epiphany:
    • Bruce has such a moment when he pushes DS 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 her way 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 ahead with the plan a minute later, however.
  • Inferiority Superiority Complex: Bruce's behaviour is actually driven by extreme self-loathing and guilt.
  • Jerkass: Bruce, Dougie, Ray, Gorman and many more.
  • Meaningful Background Event / Foreshadowing: La donna è mobile playing on a stereo in the background during Bruce's first visit to his psychiatrist who is shown writing him a prescription to treat Bruce's bipolar disorder which was intensified by a woman who he likely perceives as fickle. La donna è mobile in Italian is "the woman is fickle".
  • Mood Whiplash: Like the book, the film drops any pretenses of being a comedy during Bruce's trip to Germany, as his hallucinations and drug use start getting progressively more severe.
  • Pet the Dog:Any time that Bruce is not feeling overtly hostile towards everyone around him is notable and comes across as this.
    • A major one occurs when Bruce unsuccessfully attempts to revive a dying man. He then evolved tender feelings towards his wife as she is the only person who sees the "human" Bruce behind his facade.
    • At the End he records a tape for Blades confessing that everything he does was out of fear of the world and because he was always told he is filth. He called him his best and only friend. He also gives Blades advice how to make his wife love him again.
  • 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. This is because the typographic stylistic device of the tapeworm played out well in literature text, but wouldn't come off so well in a visual medium. It still makes a brief appearance in one of the film's most intense scenes and Dr. Rossi is represented in the credits as a tapeworm.
    • In addition, the black man who is murdered by Bruce, has been changed to a Japanese student. 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.
  • Race Lift: The murder victim is changed to a Japanese tourist.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: After the final confrontation with Ghostie Gorman, Bruce is returned to uniform and busted down to Constable.
  • The Sociopath: Bruce, tries to convince himself that he can't feel, and he succeeds to a certain extent. Ghostie Gorman seems to play this straight.
  • Teeny Weenie: While we only have Bruce's word for it in the book, the photocopier scene confirms that Ray Lennox isn't very well endowed. Amanda Drummond later mocks Bruce for having used the photocopier's zoom function to embellish his penis to win the competition and Karen Fulton's reaction to Bruce's actual size is one of confusion.
  • Villain Protagonist: Then again, there isn't really anyone good or heroic around, besides perhaps the dying man's widow and Carol herself.

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