“I am no longer constipated” - Worst toilet in Scotland - underwater fantasy sequence - “Now I’m ready” - “The downside of coming off drugs” - Helping Spud - Spud’s interview - Begbie’s story - The truth from Tommy - “Begbie did people”
As Renton walks down a street in Edinburgh back to his flat, his narration explains that heroin makes people constipated, but because his last hit has worn off and the suppositories have not kicked in yet, he is no longer constipated. He doubles over on the sidewalk, and frantically looks for a shop with a bathroom he can use. As he runs through a betting shop toward the bathroom, the voice-over describes the bathroom of his dreams, but he says he would settle for anything. The hallway gets dirtier and more dingy as he goes along, and he enters through a door marked "toilet." As the door closes behind him, the word’s “The Worst,” and “In Scotland” appear before and after the toilet sign, respectively.
A cut to the inside of the bathroom shows a disgusting room covered in brown and green sludge, assumed to be human excrement. Renton enters a stall that is equally disgusting. The toilet is clogged and full of brown water. Renton tries to flush it, without success, and quickly sits down on the seat and closes his eyes. He defecates, and lets out a long sigh of relief. Suddenly, his eyes pop open as he realizes he has evacuated the suppositories into the toilet. He looks between his legs, gets off the toilet and onto his knees, and reaches his arm into the toilet bowl, searching for the suppositories. He is unable to find them. He gradually reaches his arm further and further into the toilet until his whole shoulder goes into the bowl, then his head and neck, his torso, and finally his legs. The bathroom stall is left empty.
We enter a fantasy sequence of Renton swimming through a peaceful underwater landscape, searching for the suppositories. He passes an underwater mine. Renton spots the suppositories, glowing like pearls on the seabed, and swims down to them. He picks them up and begins swimming back the way he came. In the still-empty bathroom stall, a hand suddenly emerges from the toilet, holding the suppositories. Renton’s head follows it. He begins to pull himself out of the toilet, and a cut in time shows his legs fully out of the toilet, soaking wet, standing on a carpet. As he walks and the camera pans out, we realize he is back in his bedroom already. He has the suppositories in hand, and the voice-over tells us, “Now I’m ready.”
In a large park in Edinburgh (The Meadows), we see Sick Boy and Renton standing, facing each other, across a long expanse of grass. Sick Boy is carrying a large suitcase. They walk toward each other, meeting in the middle, and look around the park for a place to set up. They begin walking toward the camera. Meanwhile, Renton’s voice-over tells us that the worst part about coming off of drugs is that he needs to interact with his friends while sober. He is bothered by the ways they remind him of himself. He claims that Sick Boy came off drugs at the same time as Renton just to prove that he could do it, as a way of minimizing Renton’s struggle with it. He complains about Sick Boy’s unifying theory of life, and a cut shows Renton and Sick Boy already set up at their spot in the park, as Sick Boy explains his unifying theory.
They are lying down in a secluded spot, with a BB gun and binoculars. Sick Boy’s theory amounts to the idea that everyone gets old and declines in talent, which irks Renton in its simplicity and lack of originality. It turns out Sick Boy’s point is specifically about Sean Connery, and a recent movie of his. Renton asks for the BB gun from Sick Boy, takes aim at the dog of a presumably tough young man with a shaved head, and Renton and Sick Boy do Sean Connery impressions while Renton prepares his shot. He hits the dog, which yelps and starts attacking his owner in the confusion. In voice-over Renton claims he was attempting to lead a useful life as a good citizen, now that he was off of drugs.
In the next scene, Renton and Spud are sharing a milkshake and Spud is dressed for an interview. Renton tells him that if he does too badly in the interview, he might be reported to the unemployment office for not trying hard enough, but if he does too well he might actually get the job. Renton gives Spud some speed (amphetamine) to ‘help’ with the interview. In the next shot we see Spud in the interview, speaking and gesticulating very quickly because of the drug. Spud reveals that he lied on his application, curses repeatedly, and makes a fool of himself. He shakes everyone’s hand at the interview and tries to kiss each one on the cheek. Renton’s voice-over explains that Spud had done a good job of blowing the interview the right way.
In the next scene, Renton, Sick Boy, Tommy, Spud, Gail, and Lizzie all sit around Begbie in a booth on a balcony overlooking a big bar full of people. Begbie drinks a pint with his back to the bar scene. He tells a story in which he brags about how well he was playing pool against Tommy one morning, when somebody tried to mess with him by staring at him while he took his shot. He describes the guy who was messing with him as “a hard cunt,” who he was eventually able to scare into leaving the pool hall. While he tells his story, we are shown some parts of the story the way Begbie describes them. When he finishes, everybody continues looking at him expectantly, because the story did not seem to have an ending. Begbie smiles and throws his pint glass over his shoulder, and the scene freezes while the glass is still in midair.
Renton’s voice-over comes in and criticizes Begbie’s story for its lack of an ending or any interesting details. As he explains that he was able to get the full story from Tommy a few days later, the film cuts to Tommy’s apartment. Tommy is lifting weights, and Renton is looking through Tommy’s video collection. Renton explains that telling the truth is one of Tommy’s “weaknesses,” along with staying off of drugs and never cheating. Still lifting weights, Tommy claims that Begbie was actually incredibly hungover and still drinking, and was playing terribly. Meanwhile, Renton switches the video that says ‘Tommy and Lizzie, Vol. 1’ with the video in the ‘100 Great Goals’ case.
As Tommy tells the story, we are shown a version of the scene again with the details that Tommy includes. Tommy finally sets up Begbie for a win, to salvage his pride a little, and all Begbie needs to do is sink the 8-ball. A man at the bar is minding his own business, and makes a little bit of noise while opening a bag of chips. Begbie glares at him, lines up his shot, and misses terribly. He walks up to the man at the bar and hits him with the pool cue, knocking him onto the floor. Begbie pulls out his knife and begins threatening the man. When Tommy tries to pull Begbie off, Begbie turns around and points the knife at Tommy, threatening him too. When the story finishes, Renton asks Tommy if he can borrow ‘100 Great Goals’ and Tommy says yes, unaware that his homemade porno is now inside that case.
Back at the pub, the scene is still frozen. Renton repeats part of what Tommy said about Begbie, that he is a psycho but also one of their “mates,” so there is not much they can do about his behavior. As the scene unfreezes, Begbie’s pint glass falls into the crowd below the balcony, crashes on someone’s head and causes commotion. Renton explains that Begbie’s version of doing drugs is “doing people,” and describes it as Begbie’s own sensory addiction. A woman in the crowd below is screaming and bleeding from her head, and the men near her look around for the culprit. Begbie stands up, leaves his knife on the table, and walks down to the crowd. Begbie tries to take control of the situation, saying no one can leave until he figures out who smashed a glass on the woman’s head. When another man challenges him for control, Begbie kicks him in the groin and a massive bar fight breaks out. The others watch from the balcony in silence.
On a surface level, “The Worst Toilet in Scotland” scene gives the audience an idea of the difficulties of going through withdrawal and Renton’s poor quality of life, advancing the narrative. It gives us the sense of desperation that is pervasive in Renton’s life: though he hopes for a beautiful, clean, comfortable bathroom, in his desperation he will accept whatever he can get. This continues, of course, when Renton decides to go fishing into the toilet bowl for his lost suppositories. The desperation in this scene reflects his life more broadly, as he and his friends are always struggling to afford more heroin, struggling to break their addiction, or struggling with depression. Additionally, his hopes for a perfect bathroom advance his characterization—he imagines that he is meant for something greater, and his thoughts and actions are often characterized by such a sense of yearning.
A recurring motif throughout the film is the link between drug use and decay or waste. “The Worst Toilet in Scotland” is perhaps the clearest use of such imagery. Symbolically, the human waste that covers the bathroom represents the biological decay that heroin causes in Renton and his friends. This connection is drawn again several times throughout the film, most notably when baby Dawn dies and when Tommy becomes addicted to heroin and contracts HIV. It should be noted that, in the toilet scene, the waste is all external to Renton: though he looks somewhat ill in the first part of the scene, his bowel movement relieves him of the waste, which no longer has any hold on his body, though it surrounds him. Though he dives into the foul toilet, the surreal imagery we are shown is that of a clear lake or seabed, and the scene is serene and cleansing. When Renton emerges he is clearly wet but does not appear particularly dirty or covered in waste. The way that the waste remains external to Renton contributes to the audience’s sense that Renton is being corrupted by his surroundings (his friends, for example), and helps to establish a sense of sympathy for him.
The underwater scene may also be a reference to the “cleansing” of withdrawal that Renton is about to go through. The audience immediately recognizes the scene as a fantasy, and Renton’s influence on the narrative and imagery indicates that it is his imagined reality. Therefore, this surreal moment indicates that, though Renton pokes fun at people who tell him that heroin is “poisoning his body,” he does agree with this sentiment and see withdrawal as a form of "cleansing." This is also our first clear moment of surrealism, though earlier scenes had suggested the surrealist style of the film in the way they played with time. The words that appear on the door of the toilet, to make it read “The Worst Toilet in Scotland,” continue the freeze frame and slide annotating techniques that started in the opening sequence, furthering the notion that the film takes place from Renton’s point of view, and that he is the narrator, curator, and editor of what we are shown.
The actual process of withdrawal is largely skipped over this time around, and the next several scenes characterize Renton’s friends and his relationships with them after he has successfully gotten off of heroin. Renton’s narration preempts this section of the film by telling us explicitly that he can hardly stand to interact with his friends while sober. The following scenes then show us the ways in which all of Renton’s friendships are toxic for one or both of the people involved, indicating that, perhaps more than heroin addiction, the group’s problems are each other.
Renton’s relationship with Sick Boy is shown first, and Renton reflects on it intelligently in his narration. The biggest problem that he has with Sick Boy is that they are too similar, and in Sick Boy he can see many of his own flaws, which distresses him. In the scene in the park, the two seem to be close friends only because of their history—though Renton cannot stand the conversation with Sick Boy, they are comfortable with each other in the manner of old friends. They communicate without speaking when they meet in the center of the park and choose a spot to sit, Renton understands things about Sick Boy’s motives without being told, and they engage in easy banter as they imitate Sean Connery. Their activity in the park appears to be a regular occurrence based on the fact that both of them brought equipment (binoculars and BB gun) and Renton’s failure to mention the activity as notable in the narration. The similarity between the two draws into question the way that the audience sides with Renton throughout the film, and helps to make ambiguous his role as a sympathetic character. One thing that does set them apart is his perceived intelligence advantage over Sick Boy, which is brought out by Sick Boy’s inane “unifying theory of life.” However, we know the film’s point of view to be unreliable and subjective, and so it may be that Sick Boy, who also perceives himself as smarter than the rest of his friends, would have a very different way of telling the story. Additionally, the scene is important for showing Renton engaged in anti-social behavior while off drugs, which helps to further demonstrate his contempt for society and shows us that addiction is not the sole cause of their problems.
Renton’s interaction with Spud shows that their relationship is mostly harmful for Spud. Because Spud is the dimmest member of the friend group, no one really takes him seriously and he is mostly passive—he tends to go along with whatever the rest of the group is doing without questioning it. Renton does not trust Spud to "properly fail" the interview, and so he intentionally sabotages it by giving Spud amphetamines and telling him they will help with his nerves. Though Spud seems to be agreeing with Renton and to have wanted this kind of "help," Renton’s domination of the conversation indicates Spud’s passive role. We then see Spud make a fool of himself in the interview, as Renton’s voice-over comments on this ‘success’ in a patronizing manner. Additionally, the focus on the milkshake at the opening of the scene continues the director’s use of material objects to connect images, and the way that Renton and Spud share the milkshake foreshadows Renton’s preference for Spud and his eventual decision to share some of the money with him at the end of the film.
The sequence of scenes about Begbie’s story characterizes Begbie and Tommy, who are the only two non-heroin using members of the core group of friends. Begbie sits at the center of the group and commands everyone’s attention—a common role for him (though occasionally Sick Boy appears at the center of the group). Begbie is self-obsessed, and his story is basically just about how great he is, without any real plot or interesting details. He is also obsessed with shows of strength and masculinity, so his story focuses on how he bested a big, tough-looking guy. While Begbie’s version of the story reveals key aspects of his psyche, we find out the true details from Tommy, which further draws out characteristics of Begbie that his version had left out. Tommy’s version reveals that Begbie has an incredibly short temper and is prone to violence. Because of the freeze-frame on Begbie throwing his pint glass over the ledge, we know that he does not care about other people and whether he might hurt them, which Tommy’s story confirms. When the scene unfreezes and it turns out that Begbie threw the glass so he could start a fight, we discover that in fact he enjoys hurting others even without any pretext for setting off his short temper. As he stands to go down to the bar to fight, he takes out his knife and leaves it on the table; this gives an important indication of his intention to fight for recreation, and his understanding himself well enough to know that if he brings the knife he might end up using it and getting arrested.
Meanwhile, during Tommy’s version of the story, we learn that Tommy is the most moral member of the group: he does not lie, he does not cheat, he does not use heroin, and he avoids conflict. Renton sees most of these qualities as failings on Tommy’s part, demonstrating Renton’s skewed sense of judgment. Further, we see Renton engaged in a selfish act when he steals Tommy and Lizzie’s porno. He does not consider the effect this might have on his friend, and though it later leads to a chain of events that causes Tommy’s girlfriend to break up with him and leads Tommy to start using heroin, contract HIV, and die, Renton never admits to wrongdoing or apologizes to Tommy. Additionally, we see for the first time Tommy’s obsession with fitness, which is used to contrast his physical health at the start of the movie with his sick and atrophied form after he starts using heroin and contracts HIV. When we are shown images that seem to correspond with both Begbie’s and Tommy’s versions of the story, we get another indication that some of the images may come from Renton’s head—he imagines them as his friends tell their stories. The freeze frame indicates a similar adherence of the images to Renton’s train of thought, as he pauses the action on the screen for the sake of following up on Begbie’s story.