“The good times couldn’t last forever” - Shoplifting callback - in court - celebration - one hit - overdose sequence - back home - withdrawal nightmare sequence
As Renton lies drugged on the floor his voice-over warns, “The good times couldn’t last forever.” We hear Allison screaming and crying in the background. The voice-over explains that Renton thinks Allison might have been screaming all day, or even all week, but it did not really register with anyone because they were all on drugs. In a shot from the hallway that shows both rooms of Swanney’s flat, we see Allison walking around distressed, still wailing, alone in one of the rooms. She walks to the other room screaming, and the others gradually rouse themselves from their drug-induced stupor. Sick Boy jumps up and runs to her, and a still-dazed Spud says “everything is going to be just fine.” Renton’s voice-over corrects this, telling us that everything is going to be much worse, as Sick Boy rushes to the baby’s room. When Sick Boy gets to the cradle, he peers in with a sick look on his face. In the other room, Allison continues screaming and Renton gets up and begins moving towards the baby’s room.
A slow pan around the cradle reveals that the baby has died. Renton, Swanney, and Tommy gather at the cradle behind Sick Boy. Renton’s voice continues to say that the baby, Dawn, was not his child, but that he does not know whom the father is. He feels like he needs to say something sympathetic, but cannot think of anything to say. Sick Boy yells at him to say something, and Renton mumbles that he will cook up more heroin for them. Sick Boy begins crying over the cradle. In the next room, Renton begins cooking up near Allison, who is still weeping. She crawls over to him and asks for a hit as well. Renton’s voice explains that he understood that she needed a hit to take away the pain of her daughter’s death, so he cooks a hit for her, but she has to wait until he takes his hit first. Renton’s voice goes on to explain that now they knew who the father was, as a cut to the baby’s room shows Sick Boy still crying over the cradle. He says that something inside Sick Boy died that day as well, and the film cuts to Sick Boy leading Renton and Spud into a bookstore to shoplift.
Renton is again running down a busy street in Edinburgh, pursued by the store security guards, in a scene that recalls to the opening scene. His voice-over describes their lifestyle in response to the baby’s death in a similar list form as the monologue at the start of the movie. He says the only thing they could do was to “fuck everything. Pile misery upon misery… keep on going: getting up, going out, robbing, stealing, fucking people over, propelling ourselves with longing toward the day it would all go wrong.” Sick Boy ducks into a doorway, the guards run past him without noticing, and he walks off in the other direction. We see Renton again get hit by the car and stop running to stare through the window at the driver. His voice-over tells us that he knew that sooner or later, “this sort of thing was bound to happen,” and he is tackled by one of the security guards.
In the next scene, Renton and Spud are in court. They sit on the dock above the bench, where the judge sits, and the gallery, where their families and friends sit. The judge reads out a sentence, sentencing Spud to six months in prison. The judge conditionally suspends Renton’s sentence because Renton has entered a program to wean himself off of heroin. The judge warns that if Renton appears before him again, he will send him to prison. Renton, somewhat sarcastically, promises to try to conquer his affliction, and he and the judge stare at each other for a long time.
In the next scene Renton and his parents, as well as Sick Boy, Begbie, Gav, Gail, and Lizzie, celebrate the ruling over pints in a mostly empty pub. Renton’s parents express relief and love for Renton, as well as hope that he will change. Begbie tells him it is time to get off of heroin for good, and Sick Boy seconds this idea, sarcastically telling Renton to “choose life” instead. Sick Boy winks at him. Renton’s mom reflects on when Renton was a baby, and the group jokingly sings “Shortnin’ Bread.” They stop when Spud’s mother appears. She stands away from them and says nothing. Renton stands up, faces her, and apologizes for getting off while Spud got a sentence. As she sullenly walks away, Begbie yells after her that it is her fault her son was a heroin addict. Renton gets up to go to the bathroom, and his voice-over explains that he feels alone surrounded by his family, and wishes he had gone to jail instead of Spud. He slips out the back door of the pub.
He emerges in a small yard in the back of the pub, surrounded by a high wall. His narration explains that the state program to wean him off of heroin gives him three doses of methadone a day, and it is never enough for him. He has already taken all three doses for the day, and has eighteen hours until he can get more. As he climbs up crates and kegs to get over the wall, his voice-over says he just needs one more hit, and needs to go see Mother Superior (Swanney). He stands on top of the wall, and dives off as if into a somersault.
In the next scene, he seems to land from the dive in a crouching position in Swanney’s flat. He and Swanney banter about the heroin as if Renton is at an upscale restaurant and Swanney is the server. Swanney tells Renton that he can no longer buy heroin on credit, and Renton must pay cash. Renton produces 20 pounds and Swanney gives him a needle already prepared with a dose. Renton injects it and the camera shows the process in detail, including the flow of blood back up into the needle, and a shot that seems to be from inside the needle, showing the fluid drain into Renton’s vein. Renton collapses backward from the hit as usual, but the floor where he is sitting falls away and he sinks deeper down below the floor. The carpet on which he is lying pulls in as if his body is dragging it in while he sinks. Lou Reed’s “Just a Perfect Day” plays. Renton seems to be having a seizure. A shot from his perspective shows the carpet taking up the two outer quarters of the frame as Swanney peers into the ‘hole’ in which Renton has sunk. The ‘hole’ loosely resembles a coffin.
Swanney asks if he should call for a taxi to take Renton to the hospital. An ambulance siren can be heard wailing in the distance, and the ambulance is then shown speeding down a street near Swanney’s flat. As Swanney carries a limp Renton out of the flat and down the stairs, the siren grows louder. We again see some of the scene from Renton’s perspective and the red carpet blinders have grown closer together, leaving only the center third of the frame visible. Outside, the ambulance speeds by without stopping while Renton lies on the ground in the middle of the street and Swanney waits on the curb, nervously rubbing his head. The taxi pulls up, Swanney puts Renton in the back seat, and puts money for the cab driver in Renton’s breast pocket. The driver takes Renton to a hospital, pulls him out of the cab, takes the money out of his pocket, and drives away, leaving him on the ground outside of the emergency entrance. A hospital worker rushes outside and collects Renton, and Renton’s perspective shows that the red carpet’s framing has shrunk a little bit, leaving more than half of the screen visible. He is rushed through the hospital on a gurney, a Doctor slaps him and yells “wake up,” and when he does not respond she gives him an injection. Just after the injection, Renton gasps and lurches up from the gurney. From his perspective, he emerges from the pit lined with the red carpet. He begins breathing more easily.
In the next scene Renton sits in the back of a cab looking small and ashamed, with his mother and father on either side. His parents are clearly disappointed. In a cut to Renton’s childhood bedroom, we see Renton’s father enter carrying Renton, and place him on the bed. It is a small single bed, and the room is covered in wallpaper with trains on it. His parents undress him and tuck him into his covers. They leave and lock the door with two bolt locks. In Renton’s room, he begins twitching, and a long withdrawal montage begins. Renton’s voice explains that he does not feel the withdrawal symptoms yet, but they are on their way.
He says he is in limbo, too sick to sleep but too tired to stay awake. The room appears to stretch away from him. He tries to relax but Diane appears at the edge of his bed in her school uniform, singing “Temptation” to him. We see him toss and turn in bed, Diane disappears, and his parents enter to bring him food. His mom assures him that he will get better under their care, and he asks if he can go back to the methadone clinic. She says no, he asks for a benzodiazepine to help with the symptoms, she refuses, and they leave. As they close the door, he yells after them in a rage that he needs “one more fucking hit,” and curses at them. He tosses and turns more in bed, and hides under his sheet. He turns over to find Begbie under the covers with him, laughing at him and criticizing him for his addiction. Begbie disappears and Renton emerges from the sheets, facing his pillow. He hears a baby making gibberish noises, and turns over to find baby Dawn crawling on the ceiling toward him. He moans and tries to bury his face in his pillow.
A close up of a TV reveals a game show in which his parents are the contestants. The host asks a trivia question about HIV, and his father answers correctly. Renton is under the sheets again, twitching. He hears Sick Boy’s voice talking to him about drug addiction, and emerges from the sheets to see Sick Boy sitting in a chair at the foot of the bed, drinking tea and eating a biscuit, as Renton’s mother stands over his shoulder. Sick Boy tells Renton that it is time for him to “just say no,” and he takes a bite of the biscuit. The sound of the biscuit crunching is magnified to Renton, who covers his ears and starts screaming. He hears baby Dawn wailing again, and looks up to see her still crawling toward him. He tries to bury his face in his pillow but has trouble not looking at the baby. He turns around again and finds Spud sitting on top of his bedroom door in a prison uniform with a chain around his ankles, banging his chain against the door. The TV displays the same show again, and the host asks a more specific question about the receptors to which HIV binds. Tommy, appearing gaunt, pale, and dirty, slides into Renton’s view against the wall of his bedroom. In the background, Renton’s father can be heard on the TV program, again answering the question correctly. Tommy repeats many of the things that he had said to Renton when trying to convince Renton to give him heroin, including “I can find out for myself.” He then says, with a harsh tone, “I’m finding out alright,” and begins sliding away from Renton, off the screen. Renton shakes and pants with fear.
The baby wails again, and Renton looks up to find her still crawling toward him. The TV host is seen asking, “is he guilty or not guilty?” and Renton begins screaming. Renton’s mother answers on the program, “he’s our son.” The baby stops on the ceiling directly above Renton, who is screaming “Dawn” over and over, and twitching with fear and anguish. Dawn’s head spins all the way around to stare at Renton. Tommy is shown still sliding along the wall, Spud bangs his chain against the door once more, and the baby falls from the ceiling onto Renton’s head. He shakes uncontrollably and curls into the fetal position, still screaming. His parents appear at the edge of his bed, and his father shakes his leg and says his name. Renton is suddenly calm and sleeping, and wakes up to find his parents there. His father tells him there is something he needs to do. The nightmare sequence has ended, but the background music continues into the next scene.
The death of baby Dawn is the most tragic moment of the film and a major turning point for Renton and his friends. It is the clearest criticism of heroin use in the film, as the group’s addiction caused the neglect that was responsible for the baby’s death. This neglect was shown repeatedly throughout the earlier part of the film, foreshadowing the tragedy, and Allison’s screams and the notable absence of the baby from the room at the start of the scene indicates that something has happened to Dawn. Further, the shot from the hallway that shows Allison screaming alone in one room of the apartment echoes the first indication of the baby’s neglect: during Renton’s opening monologue, the friends are shown from the same angle doing drugs in one room while the baby crawls alone in the other. Though the scene stirs up the audience’s disgust with Renton and his friends, we are also shown the more emotional, human side of some of the characters; Sick Boy is distraught, Renton wants to comfort him but is too shocked to muster anything to say, and the rest of the friends are all upset. Renton’s behavior in this scene evokes in the viewer a complex mix of reactions: we are shown his inability to be a good friend when needed, but the audience can also understand his shock and confusion; we see a quick return to heroin that demonstrates an apparent lack of remorse or responsibility, but the audience also gets a sense of their profound dependence on the drug. Additionally, Renton’s assertion that “it goes without saying” that he would get the first hit after cooking up further points out the selfishness that heroin brings out in the group, while also foreshadowing the impact of HIV on their group.
Renton’s statement that something inside Sick Boy died that day sets up a new characterization of Sick Boy that will carry through the rest of the film: he is now much more desperate, much more self-centered, and less similar to Renton. He ends up turning to crime more, becoming a small-time drug dealer and pimp. The echo of the opening chase scene indicates the importance of this part of the film: starting with Dawn’s death and carrying through to Renton’s nightmare withdrawal sequence, this section can be considered the climax of the film. Dawn’s death, and the way that it drives a gap between Renton and Sick Boy, will lead to Renton’s decision to rip them off at the end of the film. Additionally, the tragedy sends not just Sick Boy but all of them into a desperate spiral of theft and drug use, in which they “keep on going and fuck everything. Pile misery upon misery… propelling ourselves with longing toward the day it would all go wrong.” The newfound zealousness of their desperation leads to Renton and Spud’s arrest, Spud’s incarceration (which maes Renton feels even more guilty), and finally, Renton’s forced withdrawal from heroin. The speech also uses a list similarly to the ‘choose life’ speech at the outset of the film, and the placement of this narration over the echo of the chase scene drives home the way it is intended to mirror that speech, albeit with the subject matter reflecting Renton’s tragedy- and addiction-driven attitude toward life.
Renton and Sick Boy’s ability to avoid incarceration while Spud gets jail time is typical of the way they take advantage of Spud throughout the film. While Sick Boy figures out a way to avoid being caught and Renton figures out how to get out of a sentence, Spud’s stupidity and incompetence prevent him from escaping punishment—he doltishly nods in agreement while the judge criticizes his character. The judge’s assertion that shoplifting is not a victimless crime suggests that he feels compelled to issue some jail time to someone involved, implicating Renton’s avoidance of a custodial sentence as partially responsible for Spud’s sentence. Renton’s tongue-in-cheek response to the judge’s leniency indicates that he will not take the methadone program seriously and does not plan to break his addiction. It also demonstrates his anti-authority or anti-establishment attitude, in another moment of almost clichèd youthful angst.
When Renton seeks more heroin after leaving the pub celebration with his family and friends, we find another example of his turning to heroin in response to guilt, though he repeatedly asserts that it is simply driven by either addiction or “no reasons,” as he claims in his opening monologue. He goes off to find another hit after Spud’s mother interrupts their celebration and makes him feel guilty about escaping punishment while Spud went down. He goes from good spirits to looking glum, and immediately leaves to go to Swanney’s apartment. His somersault off of the wall behind the pub and into Swanney’s apartment contributes to the frenetic and surrealist nature of the film and prepares the audience for the overdose and withdrawal sequences that immediately follow. The graphic image of the injection of heroin, which includes the flow of blood back into the needle, foreshadows both the immediate physical danger at the hands of the heroin as well as the transmission of HIV that will become an important plot point in the film after Renton emerges from withdrawal.
Renton’s collapse through the floor again shows us a surreal version of the scene from his drugged perspective. The imagery often represents his mindset in these scenes. Here, the most immediate implication is that his sinking through the floorboards reflects a sense of falling or of collapse that the overdose has caused. On another level, his being slowly lowered into the floor and the way that the carpet ‘blinders’ create a coffin-like shape on the screen indicate a feeling of imminent death, and draw out the mortal danger of such an overdose. The siren that can be heard in the distance foreshadows Renton’s trip to the hospital, while the ambulance’s rushing by without stopping as Swanney puts Renton in a taxi reminds us of the selfishness of the characters—though Swanney does show concern for Renton’s safety and try to help him, he will not call an ambulance or go to the hospital with him because he does not want to get caught for using or selling heroin. The hospital scene provides a callback to one of Renton’s earlier lines about Swanney teaching them to “adore and respect the National Health Service,” because they steal most of their equipment and drugs from it—despite their abuse of the health system, it saves Renton’s life, drawing out his selfishness and his negative impact on society. His emergence from the carpet ‘coffin’ finally indicates to the audience that he has been rescued from death.
Renton’s shameful expression and posture in the back of the cab, between his parents, reflect those of a child who has been caught doing something wrong. His being carried into his childhood bedroom and placed in bed by his father solidifies this comparison. His parents’ care and attention—here and earlier in the film—indicate an unexpected quality of parenting. It is implied at several points (most notably, by Begbie during the post-trial pub celebration) that bad parenting is often to blame for someone turning to drugs and crime, yet it seems this does not explain Renton’s behavior. Additionally, Renton’s anger and cursing at them while they try to help again shows his desperation as a heroin addict, and also gives the audience a sense of the pain of withdrawal. This time he does not have other drugs, like benzodiazepines, to help ease the withdrawal, and he enters into an unstable and hallucinogenic mental state because of the pain, illness, and sleep-deprivation of the withdrawal.
During this nightmare sequence, all of the things about which he feels guilty throughout the film come back to haunt him. We realize that these images often represent events that led him directly to start using heroin again: Diane dressed in her high school uniform, singing to him; Spud in chains and a prison uniform, staring at him accusingly; baby Dawn, crawling closer and closer to him. We finally see the first semblance of guilt for Tommy’s downfall when he imagines Tommy, addicted and sickly, blaming him for what has happened. The sequence confirms the hypothesis that what has driven most of Renton’s behaviors, despite his insistence otherwise, is a deep self-loathing. Even his hallucinations of Sick Boy and Begbie, which do not demonstrate any guilt, can be seen as representing the way that his friends remind him of himself and his own more negative attributes. Additionally, his parents’ defense of him on the HIV game show indicates guilt at how he treated them, and how he wasted the chances they have given him. This moment draws out the way that their kindness only ever seems to make him feel worse about himself. Additionally, the game show foreshadows the film’s addressing of HIV in the scenes that follow. Renton’s torment at the hands of his guilty conscience in this sequence helps to humanize him, and though it reminds the audience of his moral lapses and the harm he has caused, it also elicits sympathy for his pain in the viewer.