"Something important missing" - “Football” and “shopping” - “Mark Renton had fallen in love” - Renton pursues Diane - Three sex scenes - Next morning for all three - Renton walks Diane to school - The great outdoors - Back on drugs (Montage) - Edinburgh festival
Inside Renton’s flat, the ‘100 Great Goals’ video case lies on the floor. Renton and Sick Boy sit on the couch, watching their friend’s homemade porn video. Renton’s voice over explains that this experience helped him realize that there was something missing from his life. We cut to the interior of a club, with loud music playing. Renton is alone, looking around for a woman. Spud and Tommy sit next to each other at the end of an empty room in the club. They are speaking, but it is hard to understand what they are saying. Subtitles appear to help us understand the conversation. Spud and Tommy are talking about their girlfriends (Gail and Lizzie, respectively). Spud complains that he and Gail have not had sex yet even though they’ve been together for six weeks, because Gail does not want the relationship to start on a physical basis. She got the idea from the magazine Cosmopolitan. In the women’s bathroom, we find Gail and Lizzie talking about the same thing, as Gail says “I read it in Cosmopolitan.” Gail also desperately wants to have sex with Spud, but reveals that she was enjoying watching Spud suffer through the relationship with no sex. Lizzie says sex is the only pleasure she gets from Tommy, and complains that he forgot about her birthday. The scene cuts back to Tommy and Spud, as Tommy explains that he forgot Lizzie’s birthday but she overreacted. When Gail and Lizzie return to Spud and Tommy, they ask each other what they were talking about. The boys answer, “football,” in unison and the girls answer, “shopping,” in unison.
Renton notices Spud and Tommy with their girlfriends as he looks around the club. In another part of the club, he sees Sick Boy and Begbie talking with two women. All around, he sees young people successfully pairing off. His narration switches to the third person, referring to himself as “young Renton,” and comments on his lack of success and the desperation of his newfound libido, as he walks around the dance floor looking for women. Each woman seems to already be with another man or not interested in Renton. He notices a girl walking toward the door. A man runs up to her with two drinks and seems to be asking her to stay. She takes the drinks out of his hands one at a time, downs them, and returns the empty glasses to the man before continuing toward the door. In voice-over Renton claims that he has fallen in love with her, and he starts moving toward the door.
Outside, the girl (Diane) crosses the street looking for a taxi. Renton tries to catch up to her, and compliments her on the way she handled the man who tried to give her a drink. As he tries to flirt with her, she continues walking away from him. Finally, Diane turns to him and mocks his efforts, criticizing Renton’s attitude and his assumptions about her. He freezes, embarrassed and unable to respond, as Diane gets into a taxi. She taunts him further, asking, “cat got your tongue?” but leaves the door of the taxi open as an invitation. Still stunned, Renton tries to find an excuse to go back to the club, but gets in the cab when the driver prompts him. In the back of the cab, Renton and Diane begin kissing passionately. Outside of the club, Gail aggressively kisses a very intoxicated Spud, and tells him that she will lift her ‘no sex’ rule only if he is a perfect lover that night. Tommy and Lizzie, also kissing, enter Tommy’s apartment.
A series of parallel cuts between Tommy, Spud and Renton show the sexual experiences of all three as the night progresses. Renton and Diane enter Diane’s apartment, and she tells him to be quiet as they go to her room. Tommy and Lizzie frantically undress in Tommy’s apartment, and flop down on his couch in front of the TV. In Diane’s room, Renton stares dumbfounded as Diane confidently strides over to her desk, takes out a condom, and pulls off her dress. Renton follows excitedly follows her lead and begins undressing. In Gail’s room at her family’s apartment, Spud is passed out on her bed. She climbs on top of him and tries to rouse him, promising him sex. He does not wake up. At Tommy’s, Lizzie asks if they can put their homemade porno on the TV, so they can watch while they have sex. He excitedly puts the tape in. At Gail’s, she tells herself she wants to see ‘what she is missing’ and begins taking Spud’s pants off. At Diane’s, Renton and Diane are having sex. Gail has fully undressed Spud, and derisively says ‘not much,’ referring to his penis, as she pulls the covers up to cover him. Tommy watches the screen as Lizzie kisses him, and he looks on in horror as he realizes that the wrong tape (‘100 Great Goals’) was in the box for his porno. Lizzie turns around and also realizes what is happening. As Archie Gemmill scores a famous goal against Holland in the 1978 World Cup on Tommy’s screen, Renton and Diane climax. When Renton finishes, he says he has not felt that good since Archie Gemmill scored that famous goal, making reference to the scene happening at Tommy’s in one of the surreal moments of the film. Diane immediately kicks Renton out, saying he cannot sleep in her room, and must sleep on the sofa in the hall or go home. Tommy frantically looks through his video collection for the porno while Gail yells at him from the couch for losing it.
The next morning, Spud wakes up and seems confused about where he is. Renton wakes up on a sofa in the hallway of Diane’s apartment as someone rides by on a bicycle. Diane is heard singing “Temptation” by New Order. Somebody walks past the couch and mumbles a hello. At Gail’s, something in the room smells foul, and Spud soon realizes that he has defecated all over the bed. Outside in downtown Edinburgh, Tommy and Lizzie wait outside the video store for it to open. They sit far apart and do not speak. Renton gets up and goes to the dining area, where a slightly older woman and man sit, eating breakfast. They say a friendly hello, and ask if he is a friend of Diane’s. Renton asks if they are Diane’s flatmates, which makes them laugh. Diane enters wearing a high school uniform, and Renton looks horrified. He realizes that the two at the breakfast table are her parents, and he has slept with a minor. Spud goes into the dining room at Gail’s house with the sheets bundled and says hello to Gail and her parents. He asks Gail’s mother where the laundry is so that he can wash the sheets, and she insists that she can wash them instead. They fight over the sheets, eventually pulling on them so hard that they open up and spray feces all over the room, covering everyone except Spud.
Outside in Edinburgh, Renton walks quickly down the street with Diane trailing him, trying to hold his hand. Renton is upset. He tells Diane that he has broken the law and could go to jail for sleeping with her. She tells him to calm down and asks if she can see him again. When he says no, she threatens to tell the police that they slept together if he does not see her again. Renton walks away, and Diane tells him she will see him around.
The next shot shows a train pulling away from a station. On the other side of the tracks, Tommy, Spud, Renton, and Sick Boy stand facing an expanse of green grass and hills. Out in the field, Tommy leads the way and turns around to find that the rest have stopped walking and are resting on a small platform. Tommy explains that he has taken them to the “Great Outdoors” for a walk. The others are resistant, making fun of Tommy. When Tommy asks of the outdoor scene, “doesn’t it make you proud to be Scottish?” Renton launches into a diatribe about how pathetic and miserable the Scottish people are. The group turns around and begins walking back toward the train station, and Renton explains in voice-over that he, Spud, and Sick Boy “made a healthy, informed, and democratic decision to get back on drugs as soon as possible.” Back in Swanney’s flat, Renton, Spud, Sick Boy, Swanney, and Allison are sitting in a circle on the floor, preparing to shoot up. Renton’s voice-over explains that it took about 12 hours to get back on drugs. Allison’s baby is also in the apartment. As Renton’s voice-over says that living with a heroin addiction is a “full-time business,” he collapses backward onto the floor next to the baby.
As “Nightclubbing” by Iggy Pop begins playing, a montage of theft and drug use begins. Renton breaks a car window, and steals some of the car parts. We are shown the preparation of a hit in a spoon, in which the heroin is dissolved in saline. Renton lies in a chair, clearly high, as Sick Boy talks to him about Bond girls. Renton sneaks into his parents’ bedroom, and looks for cash hidden under the mattress while his parents watch TV in the living room. The spoon of heroin is heated and boils. Renton opens his eyes while high to find Tommy sitting in front of him, telling him about his break-up with Lizzie, which happened mostly because he lost their homemade porn video (which Renton stole). Another cut shows Renton still high, but back in the scene with Sick Boy who is still talking about Bond girls. Back with Tommy again, Tommy is asking if Renton can help get him some heroin so he can see what it is like. Tommy, who has never done heroin, tells Renton that Renton has convinced him to try it by always going on about how it is “better than sex.” Renton turns away from him and Tommy gets agitated. He produces cash for the drugs, and Renton turns back toward him. A cut back to the scene with Sick Boy shows Sick Boy still talking about Bond girls, as Renton listens passively. Sick Boy’s monologue about Bond Girls ends with a comparison between a great woman and heroin, saying that heroin has “great personality.” In the next shot, Renton collapses backward on the ground after a hit, followed by Tommy, followed by Sick Boy.
Renton’s voice-over returns as we see him paying Swanney for more heroin. He tells us that Swanney taught them to adore and respect the National Health Service, because it was the source of most of their equipment and drugs. As he explains all of the things they steal from the NHS, or from people who were provided medicine by the NHS, the montage of theft continues, but with a focus on their stealing drugs and drug paraphernalia. As he explains their activities (which includes stealing and forging prescriptions, trading and stealing from cancer victims, alcoholics, and pensioners, and taking every variety of opioid they could get), we see him steal the prescription notebook of a doctor, break into a nursing home and steal a TV, and break into an apartment building. We see a needle suck up the liquid from the spoon with dissolved and boiled heroin. Renton injects himself, and Allison injects Swanney on his upper thigh. We see the whole gang passed out from drugs in an apartment, with the baby awake and crawling around.
As “Nightclubbing” continues, Renton, Sick Boy, Spud, Begbie, and Tommy sit in a row at a bar. The words “First Day of the Edinburgh Festival” appear on the screen, referring to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, a massive arts festival in Edinburgh every August that attracts visitors from all over the world. A young male tourist walks into the pub, and asks for the bathroom in an obviously American accent. He is wearing a puffy red jacket. As he walks toward the bathroom, Begbie stands first, and all five follow the American into the bathroom in a line. In a bathroom stall Begbie head-butts and kicks the American and pulls out a knife, but Renton grabs his arm to stop him from using it. A cut shows the five of them sitting behind a pool table in the same bar as Begbie splits up the cash he stole from the American. Renton stands and walks past the bar, and the bartender can be seen in the background showing one of the customers his new coat, the same one the American was wearing. Begbie calls after Renton not to spend the money they just stole on heroin.
Renton’s sharing of Tommy’s sex tape with Sick Boy gives further evidence that Sick Boy is Renton’s closest friend in the group, and that the two are quite similar. Their expressions are the same while watching it as well, helping to draw out the comparison. Renton realizes while watching the video that he has a sex drive again, which had been subdued while he was on heroin. At the club, all of Renton’s friends either already have a girlfriend or are successfully flirting with someone, while Renton desperately looks for a girl to talk to. Renton’s lack of success in this department reveals a lack of social skills to which the audience has not previously been privy—after a long period of drug use and socializing only with his close friends, he has forgotten how to flirt with women. Sick Boy, however, who also does not have a girlfriend and has been similarly addicted to heroin for a long time, does not seem to have trouble speaking with girls, which points to a deeper social incompetence in Renton that is not simply caused by his drug use. This highlights his loner personality, which might explain many of his problems, why he hates his friends, and his decision at the end of the film to steal the money and go off on his own.
The parallel scene between Tommy and Spud’s conversation and Gail and Lizzie’s conversation highlights a way in which the characters are “normal” youths, despite their counter-culture attitude. Though both groups are talking about their sex lives, and came to the club for a night out together, clearly planning to have sex afterward, they refuse to talk about sex with each other. Though they collectively rebel against many social norms, they refuse to rebel against the taboo of speaking about sex openly, and it harms them (both relationships would likely fare better if they talked to each other about their frustrations). They also refer to culturally stereotyped topics when lying to each other about what each had been discussing. Additionally, both conversations help to characterize the participants, in particular, by bringing out their self-absorption. Tommy reveals that, despite his moral superiority to most of the rest of the group, he can be quite selfish—he forgets his girlfriend’s birthday, does not properly apologize, and does not seem to consider her feelings. Gail has been cruelly refusing sex to Spud simply because she enjoys watching him suffer. Lizzie refers to sex with Tommy as the “only pleasure” she gets from him, also revealing a degree of selfishness in their relationship, though her complaint about his lack of attention to her makes this statement somewhat more understandable. Spud is the only one of the three who does not come off as selfish in this scene, as he has agreed to still date Gail and tries to be a good boyfriend despite not being able to sleep with her, which he wants desperately. On the other hand, this scene reveals how pathetic his character is, that he would be the butt of such a joke.
Renton indicates that his sudden fixation on Diane is due to his affinity for rebellious attitudes; he says he thinks he has “fallen in love” immediately after she scorns another man in a humiliating manner. It may also be a reflection of his superiority complex, in that he wants to prove he can successfully prevail in pursuing her where others have failed, or that he senses another loner personality in the girl leaving the club alone. In contrast with his lack of success in the club, Renton proves fairly charming when trying to talk to Diane—he recognizes that he cannot be straightforward in asking her to see him, so he takes on an arrogant attitude that resembles her own. Diane’s response is the first real piece of characterization that we get from her: she is sharp, arrogant, witty, confident, and unruly. She breaks down and mocks Renton’s advances in a few short sentences, but seems to have done it merely as a means of establishing her dominance in the situation, because she invites him to follow her into the cab by leaving the door open for him. Disbelief and awe spread across Renton’s face, and continue through the next several scenes with Diane. Also of note is Renton’s use of the third person in the narration in this scene—it is the only time he switches from first-person narration. This seems to be due to his description of the scene as ‘animalistic,’ so that he detaches himself from the action; however, the detachment may also be due to his shame, as an omniscient narrator, about having pursuing Diane, who he later finds out is underage.
The montage of Renton’s, Spud’s, and Tommy’s sexual experiences that night highlight each one’s failure. We see early on the Spud’s night will likely end poorly when Gail tries to make out with him and demands he be a perfect lover, while he is so drunk that he can hardly stand up. This fits in with Spud’s characterization: of course Spud, dim-witted and incompetent, screws up his first chance to have sex in six months by getting too drunk beforehand. We see Renton’s trespass against Tommy begin to have effects on him, as Lizzie becomes upset that Tommy has “lost” the tape. Meanwhile, Renton is having a great night, unaffected by any wrongdoing toward or by his friends. The parallelism between Renton's exclamation involving Archie Gemmill’s goal and the goal’s footage on Tommy’s TV screen draws out the way that Renton has ruined Tommy’s night with no consequences for himself. The parallelism of the three sex scenes leaves the audience with the perception that Renton was the only one with a successful night, after having struggled at the club.
However, the next morning we finally see the failure of Renton’s night as well. While the unpleasantness of Spud’s and Tommy’s nights continue into the morning, the parallel editing between each scene also continues, and draws out the awfulness of the situation in which Renton has found himself. His realization that he has slept with a minor suddenly corrupts his whole experience, and he becomes upset and afraid. Meanwhile, Tommy and Lizzie’s distance while waiting for the video store to open foreshadows their break-up, and Spud’s handling of his fecal situation furthers his characterization as constantly out of his element and incompetent. Further, if we take the use of fecal imagery as a symbol for the biological decay that heroin causes, we might find Spud’s release of feces into the room as a foreshadowing of the group’s return to heroin in the following scenes. The final piece of Diane’s characterization, her penchant for manipulation, comes out when Renton walks her to school and she blackmails him into agreeing to see her again. For the time-being, Renton’s refusal to see her again and his shock and horror at having unwittingly slept with a minor at least partially vindicates him in the audience’s eyes, especially considering how hard it was to tell that she was a minor in the scene at the club.
The scene in the ‘Great Outdoors’ draws out the almost stereotypical youthful angst of most of the group, excepting Tommy, in a similar manner to Renton’s opening ‘Choose Life’ speech. Renton’s diatribe against the Scottish is rife with apathy toward his heritage and nationality—things that society has prescribed as values one should care about. The scene also serves to demonstrate further Tommy’s athleticism and fixation on personal health and fitness, in order to maximize the effect of his heroin-induced fall from health. The attitudes of Spud, Sick Boy, and Renton indicate frustration—and in Renton, a deep self-loathing—likely due to the results of their previous night out. When they decide to go back to heroin immediately after this scene, the day after their bad sexual experiences, it is implied that their self-loathing following that night (at least in the case of Renton and Spud) played a large role in that decision.
The ‘back on drugs’ montage is defined by Renton’s narrated line at its outset: “living like this… it’s a full-time business.” The rapid cuts between scenes, which disrupt our temporal understanding of the sequence, contributes to a frenetic confusion intended to reflect Renton’s desperation while on drugs or hustling to get them. The scenes show the characters in situations and engaged in actions typical of their characterization: Sick Boy monologues about Sean Connery, Renton tricks people and steals from them, Begbie mugs someone in a bar and has to be stopped from using his knife in the excitement, and Spud is relatively passive, helping Renton with his crime and often appearing behind him. We also see a major turning point in Tommy’s story, and an indictment of Renton’s character, when Tommy finally asks for drugs as a result of the problems with his girlfriend that Renton caused. Renton demonstrates a moral weakness when he gives in and helps Tommy buy drugs just because Tommy produces money for it, which Renton desperately needs. Renton’s thefts from the elderly and from his own parents are used to drive home the group's desperation in acquiring drugs, and the total loss of morality that their desperation causes. Additionally, the frequent images of the baby crawling around the apartment alone and unattended while the entire group is on drugs foreshadows her tragic death at the end of the montage.