Trainspotting (Film)

Trainspotting (Film) Literary Elements


Danny Boyle

Leading Actors/Actresses

Ewan McGregor

Supporting Actors/Actresses

Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Ewen Bremner, Diane Coulston, Kevin McKidd


Drama/Crime, black comedy




BAFTA for best adapted screenplay/ NME Award for best film / Prism Award for feature film

Date of Release



Andrew Macdonald

Setting and Context

Edinburgh in the 1980's

Narrator and Point of View

The narrator of the film is our protagonist, Mark Renton. He also has control over the images presented, and many of the images seem to come from his imagination. His narration is an honest account of his perception of events, but it is subjective and not entirely reliable

Tone and Mood

The tone of the film is best characterized as an energetic frenzy. This frenzy alternates between a euphoric frenzy while the characters are on drugs, and a bleak desperation when they are on a comedown or enduring withdrawals. The narrator often puts on a sarcastic or sardonic tone and is apathetic and witty.

Protagonist and Antagonist

Mark Renton, protagonist. Begbie and Sick Boy can be considered antagonists at various points in the film.

Major Conflict

There are two major conflicts: Renton's struggle with addiction, and his struggle with the negative influence of his friends.


The action of the film ebbs and flows with Renton's drug use, so a climax is hard to pin down. One may consider the scenes between the death of Baby Dawn and Renton's nightmare withdrawal sequence (inclusive) the climax, because it is the most emotionally difficult part of the film, and drives the largest change in Renton's character.


"Spud cannot keep a clean sheet" foreshadows the scene in which Spud has an accident in the bed the morning after a long night out. The constant images of Baby Dawn alone while the adults are on drugs foreshadows her death by neglect.


Much of Renton's description of his reasons for heroin use is characterized by understatement. He understates the depression and mental health problems that lead one to use drugs, instead focusing only on the pleasure of the drug.

Innovations in Filming or Lighting or Camera Techniques

When the characters in the film take drugs there are many surreal camera and set tricks used to indicate their state of mind (for example, when Renton falls through the floor while overdosing). This also happens in the scene in which Renton visits the "Worst toilet in Scotland" and dives into the toilet to search for his drugs.


The nightmare sequence provides several allusions to Renton's overwhelming guilt, without having the narrator explicitly mention his guilt. It is also alluded to that Begbie might be homosexual (because of how defensive he is about it) without an explicit confirmation that this is the case.


Renton's guilt and addiction cause a paradoxical situation. He wants to get off of drugs partially because he knows it makes him do bad things, but when he is sober (or in withdrawal), he has to face his guilt more directly, which makes him want to turn back to drugs. We see this pretty clearly with all of the characters when baby Dawn dies: they realize that she has died because of their addiction-driven neglect, but the only thing they can do in response is to take another hit to try to ease the pain. A key component of the film is the way that heroin makes the characters behave paradoxically.


Parallelism is used to compare Renton's drug addiction to Begbie's addiction to violence. It is also used in the post-club sex scenes, which show how each character's evening ends terribly, and how this leads them all back to drugs. At various other times, it is used to show certain impacts of heroin (like when Renton is hit in the head by a soccer ball, and falls similarly to how he does after taking a hit of heroin).