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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?—Renton (the film)
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.—Renton (the book)
(If you were really looking for people who like spotting trains, try Rail Enthusiast.)
Trainspotting is a dark and bizarrely written novel by Irvine Welsh, published in 1993. It 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 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.
Welsh wrote a sequel, Porno, in 2002 which revisits the characters ten years later as they embark on an attempt to finance and film a pornographic movie. A prequel, Skagboys, which details the characters' descent into heroin addiction, is due out 2012.
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; 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. He also feels humiliated many, many times during House Arrest, but as it's the degradation of his own addiction that's being rubbed in his face, that's not exactly applicable. (For what it's worth, Mark acknowledges many times that he must be quite shaming to his parents.)
- Anti-Hero: Mark Renton, Despite being a heroin addict who shoplifts, sells drugs, takes sexual advantage of his late brother's widow, and steals thousands of pounds from his friends.
- Armoured Closet Gay: Begbie. 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. This is 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 high from violence and starts fights for no reason. In the book, this is a result of both his own insane aggression and 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, hitting a young woman in the face. 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.
- Berserk Button: Begbie.
- 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.
- Black and Gray Morality: At least among the major characters. Some of their family members are good, responsible citizens.
- Black Comedy: Lots and lots, but with a few Dude, Not Funny moments to induce Mood Whiplash at points.
- Blatant Lies: And all of it in stereo, divided into gender groups.
Girls: What are you talking about?
Boys: (After a quick glance at each other to assure syncronicity) Sports! What are you talking about?
- Bonnie Scotland: Darkly and amusingly subverted.
- Break the Cutie: Tommie is completely and utterly destroyed over the course of the second act.
- Britain Is Only London Over the top montage of tourist sights when Renton moves to London.
- Butt Monkey: Spud!
- 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.
- Chained to a Railway: The trailer for the film, even though it doesn't happen.
- Character Development: 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.
- Character Filibuster: Renton's "Choose life" rant.
- Serves as an Ironic Echo as this is what Renton states he intends to do with the money he stole from his friends.
- 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.
- Crapsack 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, but the rest of Edinburgh isn't exactly portrayed as a cultural beacon either. In fact, the whole place is bleak, and blighted with urban decay. Renton's mother is on Valium, making her, as Renton sardonically observes, also a drug addict, albeit in a more socially acceptable way.
- Creator Cameo: Irvine Welsh as Mikey Forrester, the inept drug dealer who sells Renton some anal opium plugs at the start of the film.
- Cute Kitten: Depressingly Inverted/Subverted with Tommy's death.
- Despair Event Horizon: It's implied that, for all his faults, Sick Boy is still a pretty decent guy, until his daughter dies. After that, everything good in him is broken forever.
- Disgusting Public Toilet: "The Worst Toilet In Scotland".
- 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 or worse. For the habitual users, their 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."
- Dropped a Bridget On Him: 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.
- 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.
- Erudite Stoner: Sick Boy
Renton He's always been lacking in moral fibre.
Swanny He knows a lot about Sean Connery.
Renton That's hardly a substitute.
- Freudian Excuse: In the book, Begbie gets some last-minute characterization as it's explained that his father essentially abandoned him as a child. Paralleling this is the fashion in which Begbie treats his own children.
- Fun with Subtitles:
- 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".
- 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 brief one 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: 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.
- Heroic Sociopath: Begbie's friends try to treat him this way, though he turns his rage on them often enough.
- 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 English Jerkass tourists. She retaliates by putting all kinds of squicky stuff in their food.
- Improvised Weapon: As an accomplished bar 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 arsenal.
- 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 child Dawn dies of starvation and neglect.
- Informed Attribute:
- 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 tough without using a weapon.
- The drug-dealing, pimping Sick Boy is supposedly an exceedingly awful human being, but compared to Frank 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.
- 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.
- Just for Pun
- Karma Houdini: By the end of the story Renton in particular escaped any particular punishment. 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.
- Mother Superior got his just desserts only in the deleted scenes. He lost one of his legs and became a beggar.
- Alan Venters gets one of the most horrifically justified comeuppances of any character in fiction.
- 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 brothers - 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 story.
- Matzo Fever: Spud's plans for his cut of the money involve settling down with a beautiful, rich Jewish princess.
- Mood Whiplash: Over and over again.
- 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 physically massive bully, but director Danny Boyle cast the relatively short Robert Carlyle on the belief that smaller guys are more dangerous.
- 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's the victim, rather than Spud). Also averted in Renton's sudden attack of diarrhea. In the film, he goes diving into a 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.
- No Periods, Period: Even more thoroughly and explicitly averted than Nobody Poops, and even more Squicktastic.
- In fact, almost every chapter narrated by a female character features an aversion of this. In no way does one get a sense that Welsh has some difficulty writing female characters.
- Oh Crap: Begbie's reaction in the movie when he discovers that the girl he just picked up isn't quite what she seems. As it comes shortly after a lot of extremely dark stuff it's quite a welcome change of mood
-- Begbie Fuck! Fuck, fuck, fuck... FUCK!
- 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 Frank 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'").
- Posthumous Character: Mark's brother Davie.
- Potty Emergency: Renton's leads to his encounter with the famed "Worst Toilet In Scotland".
- 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: 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.
- School Uniforms Are the New Black: After the first scene with Dianne in the club/having sex with Renton, she is never seen again not wearing her school uniform.
- 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.
- Shaggy Dog Story: In Porno much of Begbie's part of the plot involves his obsessive search for Mark Renton to take what we can assume will be painful and violent retribution on him for the events of Trainspotting. At the end, Begbie happens quite by chance to see Renton on the other side of the street, and begins to cross to reintroduce himself... only to be hit by a car and knocked into a coma, which also serves to alert Renton that Begbie is after him and flee the country.
- 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.
- 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.
- Throw the Dog a Bone: Spud spends most of the movie as a semi-coherent walking joke, but in the end he's the only one who gets sent his fair share of the loot from Renton.
- Two Scenes, One Dialogue
- Unconventional Formatting: In the novel, slightly unusual textual layouts when Renton is hallucinating because of withdrawal.
- The Unintelligible:
- 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.
- Most readers probably have this reaction as soon as they start reading the book's dense phonetics. One gets used to it, however.
- Begbie's chapters in the books are often unintelligible because he swears so much at the expense of actually saying 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.
- 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.
- Violent Glaswegian: Begbie, and plenty more besides.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Renton and Sick Boy. In the book, Renton notes that the insults which began as jokes are becoming more and more deeply meant.
- What Happened to the Kitten?: Subverted! "The kitten is fine."
- Where Did We Go Wrong?: Renton's parents had this basic reaction towards his addiction.
- With Friends Like These...: Everyone is terrified by 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.
- "Mother Superior". Most of them seem to look at him as a mentor, or possibly even father figure, at least in the movie. Of course, he's also the one encouraging their addictions, since he's the one selling them smack and thus making money off of keeping them hooked.
- Word Salad Title: 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, Alan Venters and Mark's brother Billy. 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 tries to stop Venters publicly beating up his girlfriend, the woman suddenly turns into a Violently Protective Girlfriend, and quite viciously attacks Second Prize. 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 someone else, who had annoyed him by ignoring Venters hitting her.
- Xanatos 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. Of course, this entire 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.