Trainspotting opens with an iconic monologue by protagonist Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) set over Iggy Pop’s pulse-pounding punk anthem “Lust for Life.”
The “Choose Life” monologue, as it’s known, features Renton rattling off common parts of contemporary suburban life: washing machines, compact disc players, electrical tin openers, good health, dental insurance. The monologue ends when Renton says, “I chose not to choose life. ... There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you've got heroin?”
Aside from the “Choose Life” monologue serving as one of the best opening scenes in film, it sets the tone of the film immediately, telling the viewer exactly what to expect: an unromanticized view of heroin addiction.
Trainspotting was marketed as the Scottish version of Pulp Fiction. It’s not a very accurate comparison. But one thing that both cult classics have in common is heroin.
In Pulp Fiction, Vincent Vega (John Travolta) buys heroin from his dealer, shoots up and drives to meet Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman). They have $5 milkshakes, famously dance the twist and return to the Wallaces' home. Mia mistakes Vincent’s heroin for cocaine, snorts it and overdoses, only to be revived by an adrenaline shot.
Nothing really comes of this tense scene. Though Mia is already an apparent cocaine addict, the heroin overdose doesn’t really do anything other than briefly knock her unconscious.
Trainspotting doesn’t let its characters get away with things. In fact, the entire plot of Trainspotting, and its 2017 sequel T2, revolves around the havoc heroin wreaks in each of the principle characters’ lives.
Renton overdoses and is forced through a painful withdrawal by his parents; unlike most of his friends, he is eventually able to kick his habit. The sheepish Spud is imprisoned for six months for shoplifting; by T2, he is ostracized by his wife and son and attempts suicide. Swanney, the group’s drug dealer who is also called Mother Superior, has his leg amputated in a deleted scene.
But two of Renton’s friends get off much worse, and their stories show the truest parts of the dark nature of heroin addiction.
Tommy — the drug-free, athletic friend who eventually starts using after his girlfriend dumps him — becomes hooked on heroin after one hit. He eventually contracts HIV, AIDS and, soon after, toxoplasmosis, which kills him. His friends return for his funeral, but they seem unmoved by his death until years later.
Sick Boy doesn’t struggle with his heroin addiction — near the start of the film, Sick Boy tries to quit heroin at the same time as Renton, doing so “not because he wanted to, you understand, but just to annoy (Renton).”
But Trainspotting’s most haunting scene comes on the back of one of its funniest, in which the boys beat up an over-enthusiastic American tourist.
As Renton, Spud and Sick Boy lay in a heroin-induced stupor, screams puncture their respective highs. Their friend Allison’s infant daughter Dawn has died of neglect. The group — especially Sick Boy, heavily implied to be Dawn’s father — is devastated and unable to speak. Renton’s only response is to cook up another batch of heroin to numb the pain.
This heart-wrenching scene offers a real look into the world of drug addiction: No matter what has happened, drugs are always the answer.
As the opioid epidemic continues to rear its nasty head, Trainspotting — even though it’s 22 years old — serves as a reminder that there’s nothing romantic about drug addiction.
Alex McCann is a junior studying journalism at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Have you seen Trainspotting? Let Alex know by tweeting him @alexrmccann.