Act of watching trains. Has anyone ever sat on a British Rail train and seen one of these people with their notebooks writing down the number of the trains that go past? I call this sad.

Also a movie about heroin directed by Danny Boyle staring Ewan McGregor. A very good movie in fact. Features a brilliant soundtrack produced by Brian Eno featuring Lou Reed, Underworld, Primal Scream, and Iggy Pop.

Trainspotting is also a term used to describe the people at raves who cluster around the turntables and DJs, watching every move—sometimes nodding with approval, other times frowning, always precocious.

I chose not to choose life: I chose something else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who need reasons when you've got heroin? - Renton


Director: Danny Boyle

Script: Irvine Welsh, John Hodge; based upon Welsh's novel of the same name.
Runtime: 94 Minutes
Released 1996

This movie has all the elements of classic cinema. That is to say, there's lots of Drugs, Sex, and Violence.

I'm not sure exactly what to say about this movie. I know, that while watching it, I kept thinking about the books that will induce a mindfuck node. Surely, if there was a motion picture version of that list, this movie would be near the top. Unless it's alphabetical, in which case it's near the bottom.

Of course, it's not surprising that this movie will mess with your mind a bit. Honestly, how many movies are out there that deal with heroin addiction? Oh yeah, that's what the movie's about by the way. It follows Mark 'Rent-boy' Renton as he attempts to clean up his life. In a manner of speaking.

The down side of coming off junk was that I knew I would need to mix with my friends again in a state of full consciousness. It was awful: they reminded me so much of myself I could hardly bear to look at them. Take Sick Boy, for instance, he came off junk at the same time as me, not because he wanted too, you understand, but just to annoy me, just to show me how easily he could do it, thereby downgrading my own struggle. Sneaky fucker, don't you think? And when all I wanted to do was lie along and feel sorry for myself, he insisted on telling me once again about his unifying theory of life. - Renton

It's a movie that keeps you interested. Despite the fact that pretty much everything in the plot is, to most people, an extremely serious topic, none of it seems that way while you're watching it. It seems more surreal than anything else. While you're watching it, you know you're not supposed to laugh at this shite, but you can't help it. It's hilarious at times. And everything is funnier in Scottish!

The movie doesn't really have much of a message. It takes you on a trip, and you're just supposed to sit back and enjoy yourself. It will make you think, but there is no overt moral to the story.

What this movie does have is a sense of style. Camera angles, various symbolism, intermeshing perfectly with the soundtrack. It's great.

The movie was a commercial success, making a shitload of money in the United Kingdom. It was also generally critically acclaimed, winning a number of various awards, and an Oscar nomination for best adapted screenplay. There were a number of people, however, who disliked the movie based upon some scenes which are too "gross." If you are sensitive to stuff like that, then it's probably best you don't watch it. Otherwise, I really suggest you do. It's a great ride.
Ewan McGregor       Mark 'Rent-boy' Renton
Ewen Bremner        Daniel 'Spud' Murphy  
Jonny Lee Miller    Simon David 'Sick Boy' Williamson  
Kevin McKidd        Tommy MacKenzie  
Robert Carlyle      Francis Begbie  
Kelly Macdonald     Diane  
Peter Mullan        Swanney  
James Cosmo         Mr. Renton  
Eileen Nicholas     Mrs. Renton  
Susan Vidler        Allison  
Pauline Lynch       Lizzy  
Shirley Henderson   Gail  
Stuart McQuarrie    Gavin/US Tourist  
Irvine Welsh        Mikey Forrester  
Sountrack (Artist: Track Title):
  1. Iggy Pop: Lust For Life
  2. Brian Eno: Deep Blue Day
  3. Primal Scream: Trainspotting
  4. Sleeper: Atomic
  5. New Order: Temptation
  6. Iggy Pop: Nightclubbing
  7. Blur: Sing
  8. Lou Reed: Perfect Day
  9. Pulp: Mile End
  10. Bedrock Featuring KYO: For What You Dream Of
  11. Elastica: 2:1
  12. Leftfield: A Final Hit
  13. Underworld: Born Slippy.NUXX
  14. IgDamonb Albarn: Closet Romantic
Soundtrack #2 (Hah! Yeah, there's two of them!)
  1. PF Project: Choose Life
  2. Iggy Pop: The Passenger
  3. Underworld: Dark and Long (Dark Train Mix)
  4. Georges Bizet: Habenera from Carmen
  5. Sleeper: Statuesque
  6. David Bowie: Golden Years
  7. Ice MC: Think about the way
  8. Leftfield: A Final Hit
  9. Heaven 17: Temptation
  10. Iggy Pop: Night clubbing (Baby Doc Remix)
  11. Fun Boy Three: Our lips are sealed
  12. Primal Scream: Come Together
  13. Joy Division: Atmosphere
  14. Goldie: Inner City Life
  15. Underworld: Born Slippy.NUXX (Darren Price Mix)


Choose us. Choose life. Choose mortgage payments; choose washing machines; choose cars; choose sitting oan a couch watching mind-numbing and spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fuckin junk food intae yir mooth. Choose rotting away, pishing and shiteing yersel in a home, a total fucking embarrassment tae the selfish, fucked-up brats ye've produced. Choose life.
  Well, I choose no tae choose life. If the cunts cannae handle that, it's thair fuckin problem. As Harry Lauder sais, ah jist intend tae keep right on to the end of the road . . .

That's the quote, that's from the book, and as every review of Trainspotting seems to start out with one dilution or another of these lines, I better not break tradition. Yeah, choose . . . choose . . . choose something, that's what this novel is about, that's what the film adaptation is about, that's what the whole fucking environment, the whole generation dubbed "Gen X" is really about: You may not like the idea, but you have to choose something. You can choose to be a junky, an anarchist, a punk; you can choose to be a parent, a functional member of society, what we in my country (never without a tinge of irony) call the "American Dream." You can choose to be a total waste of a human being if you want. What you can't do is not choose.

Trainspotting is a book about heroin.

Trainspotting is a book about depravity.

Trainspotting is a book about fucking underage women, about beating bums in the street, about the maxim that there are "Nae friends in this game. Jist associates," about bar brawls and rape and rude bodily functions. The language is harsh and caustic. The characters are often detestable. There are scenes in this novel that will probably make you ill (there's a short chapter involving a saturated tampon that I just can't get over . . .). But I'm not saying this is inappropriate. The dialect of this novel is Scottish soccer-hooligan speak, the location Edinburgh, the point-of-view varied. This novel reads like a set of stories told in a pub, told by each of the half-a-dozen central characters (mixed with a few told in the third person) that follow the rough chronology of Mark Renton's attempts to kick heroin and leave Edinburgh.

Because, more than anything, this is a novel about gravity. It's about that one place we each have that keeps sucking us back in, that keeps sucking us back down. It could be a home town, a college town, a neighborhood, whatever--what it really is is the place where, when you're there, you're not allowed to reinvent or improve yourself. Your friends, your associates, won't let you. Your memories won't allow it.


We go fir a pish in the auld Central Station at the fit ay the walk, now a barren, desolate hangar, which is soon tae be demolished and replaced by a supermarket and swimming centre. Somehow, that makes me sad, even though ah wis eywis too young tae mind ay trains ever being there.
  --Some size ay a station this wis. Git a train tae anywhair fae here, at one time, or so they sais, ah sais, watchin ma streaming pish splash ontae the cauld stane.
  --If it still hud fuckin trains, ah'd be oan one oot ay this fuckin dive, Begbie said.

"Trainspotting" is defined in the novel's short glossary as "keeping obsessive notes on the arrival and departure of trains." People actually do this. The use of this title is probably more than a little ironic, as the rush of heroin, sex, alcohol, Iggy Pop concerts, violence, and so on, could be seen as the polar opposite to such a mundane pastime as writing down the numbers of passing trains. Then again, heroin users who are far enough along into their addictions are known to do very little (staring at walls, etc.) except for when the withdrawal symptoms begin to kick in.

Trainspotting is not an easy read, not right away. Much like Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange, this novel relies upon a fairly heavy dose of slang (and, at least in the American edition, includes a glossary) to ground it in a particular place and time. Combined with the phonetic spellings ("ah" for "I," "fae" for "from," etc.) this dialect takes a while (at least for an American like myself) to catch. Welsh also, much like James Joyce, rejects the quotation mark as punctuation, using instead a dash to denote the beginning of a spoken passage. This may be disconcerting at first. I found, once I'd grown used to these conventions, however, the flow of this novel gained a very realistic "spoken aloud" feel. Welsh knows what he is doing.


Life's boring and futile. We start oaf wi high hopes, then we bottle it. We realize that we're aw gounnae die, withoot really findin oot the big answers. We develop aw they long-winded ideas which jist interpret the reality ay oor lives in different weys, withoot really extending oor body ay worthwhile knowledge, about the big things, the real things. Basically, we live a short, disappointing life; and then we die. We fill up oor lives wi shite things like careers and relationships tae delude oorsels that it isnae aw totally pointless. Smack's an honest drug, because it strips away those delusions. Wi smack, whin ye feel good, ye feel immortal. Whin ye feel bad, it intensifies the shite that's already thair. It's the only really honest drug. It doesnae alter yir consciousness. It just gies ye a hit and a sense ay well-being. Eftir that, ye see the misery ay the world as it is, and ye cannae anaesthetise yirsel against it.

Heroin is a rush. Junk, skag, dope, smack--there's no point pretending that it doesn't feel good, because there would be no heroin problem if it didn't. I'm sorry if you don't like this, if this is seen as something of a "pro-drug" statement. Trainspotting has been accused of glorifying drugs. Trainspotting will, in the future, certainly be condemned by a number of "literary" types for glorifying drugs, perhaps not given the place it deserves in late-twentieth-century literature. I bet Welsh has gotten hate mail. I bet, somewhere in the messed-up world, someone actually read the following words and was provoked to shoot up:

Take yir best orgasm, multiply the feeling by twenty, and you're still fucking miles off the pace. Ma dry, cracking bones are soothed and liquified by ma beautiful heroine's tender caresses. The earth moved, and it's still moving.

If I were confronted with something like "you wrote something that made me try heroin," I'd probably say I was sorry. I'd probably say, "I wish there was something I could do," and then walk away. Welsh gives the impression that he would instead, without hesitation, say "fuck off." He knows his subject, and he's not about to pretend anything (one way or the other) about the drug. You screw yourself, too bad for you. You screw yourself and then try to blame someone else, too bad for you, and you're an asshole.


Trainspotting is ugly, depraved, brutal, tragic, and unrelenting. It's also smart, funny, meaningful, effective, and one of the best novels written in the 1990's in the English language. I'm not certain I'd ever want to meet Irvine Welsh, but I will certainly be reading the next few books he writes.

Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh
First American Edition
349 pages, © 1996 by Irvine Welsh
W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
ISBN: 0-393-31480-4 (Paperback)

Next: Marabou Stork Nightmares

The Mise en Scène of Trainspotting

In Barret Hodsdon's article "The Mystique of Mise-En-Scene Revisited", "the somewhat melancholic conclusion" (Martin 2) is reached that mise-en-scene's usefulness, as both a filmmaking practice and a critical ideal, has effectively expired. He complains that "contemporary Hollywood directors tend to indulge in variations on mannerist mise-en-scene... devouring narrative interweave and resonants... image burn out at the expense of narrative modulation and subtlety... today's examples of extravagantly mannerist mise-en-scene are stylistic tactics designed to trigger a form of audience blockage... Mise-en-scene is rarely a process of sensuous visual accumulation; it is more often a relentless visual stream of sock-it-to-me, throwaway icons. The filmmaker now savagely fetishizes the image at the expense of the spectator." (Hodsdon 12)

To describe contemporary mise-en-scene as 'mannerist' is to refer to a period of art history in which there was a movement away from the conventions of one-point perspective and realism, towards exaggeration of certain features to palliate idealizations. It is true that many of the contemporary films hailed as visual masterpieces are considered so for special effects, frequently computer-generated, that grab attention away from weak plots and characters. Films considered fun to watch are frequently action movies filled with illogical explosions and sequences that defy the laws of physics, and those that are not, are still fast-paced, placing more emphasis on montage than the sustained shot. These visuals are meant to absorb the eye without needing connection to the story-- art for art's sake gone hideously wrong. Hodsdon points out the folly of these trends, and claims that the audience can no longer use subtle cues to derive greater meaning from film, because those subtle cues are no longer there. But to say that mise-en-scene is dead is to undermine the efforts of those directors who do utilize it successfully, as Danny Boyle did in Trainspotting.

A scrupulous reader will cry folly on responding to an attack on Hollywood movies with an analysis of a British product. To this, I respond that while Hodsdon used the word "Hollywood", he most likely meant "dominant" or "mainstream"; films become part of the mainstream due to popularity; and despite being made in Britain, Trainspotting cannot be denied as a phenomenon popular in several major global markets, the U.S. not the least of these. I could cite figures, but I believe it sufficient to say that the film was extremely successful, with a high profit margin, and it garnered a loyal enough following that it is still popular in the teen-totwentysomething age bracket despite the passing of years. Thus, I will use Trainspotting to show that films of the 1990s (and, logically, those of later decades as well) still have the capability of being both popular and viable in terms of mise-en-scene.

In his review of the film for The Chicago Reader, Jonathan Rosenbaum began by stating, "It would be pushing it to call Trainspotting a serious work of art or a major statement about anything." (Rosenbaum 1) I disagree with this statement. It would seem that Rosenbaum has fallen into the trap that Hodsdon pointed out, of assuming that in order for a film's style to be significant (as Trainspotting's is) it must distract from the narrative. Trainspotting's distinctive stylistic tendencies are integrally tied into the narrative, and do not distract the average viewer in such a way that e would remember the film's style of direction more than its plot or dialogue. Importantly, its style of filming connects even more deeply to Trainspotting's themes than its plot; in the interest of space, I will focus upon only the exemplary uses of the different elements of mise-en-scene to enhance Trainspotting's character and theme.

Trainspotting's settings are frequently useful for character analysis. From the amount of film time spent in each of the different types of setting (homes, business establishments and their surroundings, government establishments, and three "outdoors" settings of football pitch, park, and Scottish moor), it is easy to deduce the base of the character's lives and experience. As the character of Spud remarks in the film's original shooting script, when these characters are removed from the urban setting, "I don't know if it's... normal." (Hodge 35) Certain sets are integrally tied to specific characters. All of the flats of the heroin users (Swanney's, Forrester's, and Tommy's-- Tommy's flat is of special interest because it changes drastically over the course of the film as the character undergoes a similar change) are in disrepair, and are bare of decoration and furniture, implying that bills are going unpaid and personal goods have been sold off to support habits. In opposition to these stark sets, there is the home of Renton's family, in which every room is filled with at least one pattern print, frequently three or four clashing ones, clearly making a comic statement about the locked-in lives of the resident couple. Dianne's home appears more tasteful. Something that a repeat-viewer of the film might notice (and also find humorous) are the statements made about Dianne by her bedroom; on the first view of the film, all that will probably be noted is the Warhol-esque print on the wall near her bed (and the fact that two characters are getting naked), but if closer attention is paid to the set, several clues are given as to Dianne's jail-bait status, such as the presence of teddy bears and piggy banks.

The use of color in Trainspotting is mostly diegetic, but not always, and is even more significant for character analysis of mise-en-scene than setting, as with many artistically significant film. The scenes shot in Swanney's flat are the strongest examples of color use in the film. Areas of heroin use and preparation are washed in red, the hallway is an eerie blue, and Baby Dawn's space is green. Each of these three colors has strong resonance for the Western mind. Red is usually connected to violent emotions, whether 'positive' (passion and lust) or 'negative' (anger). Depending on its shade, blue can either be a color of peace, or of threatening chill, and it would seem that in this film the second association is played upon. Significantly, it is the hallway that leads to the world of Edinburgh-separate-from-heroin that gets washed in the chill blue. Lastly, green is traditionally a color of nature, health, and life (even though when it is reflected onto skin, it usually creates a sickly pallor).

These three colors are the dominant ones used in the film (grey being a shade, not a color, and associated primarily with Renton). Yellow is also used, primarily to imply sickliness and non-healthy states of being. Conclusions about characters can be made from the film's use of these colors. Red is used most frequently; every single heroin sequence involves the color red (in the freebasing if nowhere else). The Volcano and London nightclub scenes also invoke red, as does Dianne (through the taxi interior in addition to her coat). Interestingly enough, so do the phones at Renton's London workplace, and so does the hotel room in which the skag deal takes place (the hotel room actuall involves all four of the colors, red, yellow, green and blue-- lust, sickliness, potential, and coldness?). So, we see what these characters have passion for: heroin, sex, and money, in that order of importance. The film's most memorable use of blue is probably the infamouse toilet-dive sequence. It has been claimed that this is a romanticization of a distasteful experience, but I would counter that it is, instead, a dissociation. Many people, in remembering a particularly unpleasant experience, will report that they felt they were watching themselves from across the room, as though the event was happening to someone else. I would argue that the blue of the waters into which Renton dives, in search of his opium suppositories, is not the blue of peace and serenity (despite musical cues made chiefly for humorous effect). It is the blue of emotional numbing and the separation of one's consciousness from an activity that has been taboo for every member of modern Western civilization since his/her childhood (and rightfully, too, given the amount of germs present in human excrement). There is one noticeable use of green for character development: when Renton approaches Dianne outside The Volcano, they are totally alone, and both are lit with a greenish tinge that seemed rather non-diegetic to me. I would argue that this is an example of a highly subtle, possibly unintentional, cue to the viewer of the fact that these two characters are operating from a similar mindset. While the red is present in the background and soon dominates again, for just a moment during Dianne's monologue there is a meeting of minds. Despite all the things that work to end the relationship, at this moment at least, they are on the same footing and it is not necessarily sexual.

The visual aspects of a film's characters, their costuming, makeup, expressions, and to some extent movement, is probably by definition the element of mise-en-scene tied most strongly to character. Even in its most surreal moments, the film retains diegetic costuming; that costuming is still worth noting, particularly in order to contrast Edinburgh and London characters. The people Renton has contact with in London are, almost without exception, dressed with what most of Western culture would consider better taste than the people seen in Edinburgh (but nowhere near as interesting or possessing the attitude of the Scots). Obviously, Renton is trying to change his social sphere. The Edinburgh characters, as can particularly be seen in The Volcano, do not seem to be dressed like figures from the mid-nineties when Trainspotting was filmed. Rather, their clothing is more typical of the 1980s, and in the case of certain characters I would say the 1970s.* (This probably connects to the filmmaker's desire to show progression through three decades of culture, as is evident in their choice of soundtracks.) However, despite Dianne's love of New Order's song "Temptation", her silver sequinned dress seems much more in line with the clothing worn in the London club later in the film than that which is worn in The Volcano. This is yet another cue to her character's savvy and worldliness despite her age. "Too young for what?" she challenges (Hodge 57). The most distinctive use of makeup that adds to the mise-en-scene of Trainspotting is the realistic pallor given to the heroin junkies; it is easy to tell what stage of the kick-relapse cycle Renton is in, using the base of his skin tone. Also, each character has a sort of default expression that adds to their personal mise-en-scene. Begbie's, for example, is a surly half-grimace, half-sneer.

The best use of mise-en-scene in Trainspotting to make points about character is, as might be logical, focused upon the central figure of Renton. Renton's mise-en-scene is distinctive enough that it should be isolated and looked at in depth. All of the film's uses of shadow play involve significant moments for Renton, starting with his slump to the floor of Swanney's flat during the opening voice-over; continuing in the dinner sequence when Renton is admonished by his parents for blowing all of his chances; visible again in the quasi-confrontation scene between Renton and Tommy when Tommy is in his junkie phase; visible again in the definite confrontation between Renton and Begbie, Spud, and Sick Boy for the down payment on the skag deal, and finally to be seen when these four characters are brought to the hotel room by Andreas for the skag deal. I believe that in all of these situations, the shadows are used to emphasize Renton's isolation from those who attempt to communicate with him, or whom he attempts to communicate with. In a few instances, the shadow becomes a symbol of power and control, such as when Begbie advances into Renton's personal space and announces that he's seen Renton's bank statement. The element of color (or the lack of it) is possibly the most important one of Renton's personal mise-en-scene It is worth noting that both of Renton's personal spaces in Edinburgh-- his flat and his room at his parent's home-- are dominated by grey tones (Of course, the childhood room also has hideously-patterned train wallpaper, but that is a tie-in to Irvine Welsh's original novel.) Renton's wardrobe is also frequently grey. It should be noted that he is dressed in grey during the Worst Toilet in Scotland sequence, which uses the shade throughout extremely effectively. I would connect this dominance of grey to Renton's system of thought, which is to some extent amoral and places definite value on neutrality. His system of thought comes through in his mise-en-scene in a few other ways as well. When not grey, the color of Renton's clothing is very frequently the dominant color of the set in the background. Alternately, the lighting will wash him in a color regardless of what he's wearing (this happens in the club scenes). This combines with the manner in which different undertones of Ewan MacGregor's skin are played up even within the stages of kick/relapse, to produce a chameleonic effect. Despite his thoughts of individualism, Renton does not have a pronounced visual identity like, for example Tommy or Gail does. Instead, his mise-en-scene alters to reflect that of his surroundings, just as Renton's moral code encourages him to adapt himself as necessary and not really assert an identity. There is one noticeable exception to this rule: the bingo parlor sequence, in which the film's main use of temporal effect comes into play. The time-lapsed photography of the bingo parlor sequence, along with the use of high key lighting, emphasizes once again Renton's isolation. This is one mode of life that he quite clearly could never adapt to.

The other aspect of Trainspotting enhanced by analysis of its mise-en-scene besides character is theme. To some extent, Trainspotting is a postmodern film; heroin use is definitely an example of hedonism, which is one of postmodernism's chief motifs in film, and the postmodern technique of metanarrative is used multiple times by Renton. The most memorable uses of metanarrative are the "choose life" speeches at the film's start and finish, but metanarrative is also used during the club scenes and robbery sequence; arguably, Renton's "it's shite being Scottish!" speech on the moor is also metanarrative.

However, Trainspotting is not entirely postmodern in nature (for one thing, it features a definite subject). Rather, Trainspotting brings up other facets of 20th century philosophy, most notably existentialism, which connects most directly to the film's title. "Trainspotting", as has been established, is a hobby-- one that has very little practical application, and that many people would consider a waste of time, but its devotees must find fulfilling. This struggle to create one's own meaning out of a life that cannot be proven to have inherent meaning is at the heart of existentialism. I proposed in a class discussion that htis film also had nihilistic themes to it, which I believe it does, if the term 'nihilism' refers to the belief that all moral codes are man-made and contemporary society is not in harmony in human nature (which is what I understand the definition of 'nihilism' to be). I have heard 'nihilism' defined as a belief that nothing exists, or that nothing is important. I would say that is a misinterpretation of the word, and the idea of nothing being important is really not a major theme of Trainspotting (it was not written by Beckett, after all).

These philosophical themes play out quite interestingly in the film's mise-en-scene, and can be seen most clearly in the Edinburgh Volcano, where two interesting film references are made solely through set design: Tommy and Spud confer in a side area that has been painted with graffiti identical to that found in the moloko-bar in Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, and Renton skulks in a corner (along with others not successful in the sexual sphere) with a mural of the title character from Taxi Driver placed behind his head, so that his ears are framed by two hand-cannons. A Clockwork Orange and Taxi Driver both feature the conflict of Man vs. Society, and their main characters both choose deviant, criminal paths out of desperate hatred for the lives society has planned for them. This theme of nihilistic shunning of society can also be seen in the visual treatment of the courtroom in Spud and Renton's conviction scene. The courtroom is stark, to the point of extreme visual discomfort, and this discomfort is combined with an unwholesome brown tint to the walls and stiff tableau posturing of the actors, to make a point about the calcified nature of The State, its approved society, and the system they espouse. Trainspotting is about the struggle of the intelligent consciousness in modern times to find its own meaning in life rather than have automatic faith in meanings handed to it by others. This is why the film's protagonists constantly and consistently reject symbols of Scottish nationalism (such as Sean Connery), and constructs of valid social activity (such as bingo). They struggle to find their own meanings, and it would sem that most of them fail. Sick Boy's attempt was doomed before it ever started, given his "unifying theory of life". The film's ending gives me doubt as to whether even Renton manages to succeed. His closing act of theft does not let him find that meaning; instead, it is his final rejection of concepts pressed upon him, the last concept that he had held as true throughout the film-- the concept of the value of friendship (though he gives Spud a token kindness). This connects to one of the film's sub-themes, that of responsibility for the consequences of one's actions, and how this connects to whether those actions were made by choice or out of a perceived entrapment.

Trainspotting's other major theme is that of the human condition of isolation, and how isolation can be possible even in situaions of claustrophobic closeness. Two main spatial effects are used in Trainspotting: shooting from ground level as opposed to eye level (which can be symbolically connected to the film's attempts to show basic truths about character and situation instead of surface presentations), and what is usually termed a "fisheye" focus, in which more of the scene than could normally be captured on a flat, 180 degree plane is visible through what is in essence a curving of space. Fisheye focusing always feels claustrophobic to me, due to the compressed images at the periphery. This connects with one of the most easily identified thematic binaries in the film: isolation vs. claustrophobia. The one setting arguably used most strikingly to set off the film's themes is that of the moor, which Tommy futilely attempts to engage his friends with and which they in turn universally denounce. The moor is beautiful, but also bleak, and the characters are completely isolated. All except Tommy clump around the last visible edifice, a small bridge; Tommy is never shown in close-up in this scene. Instead, he is dwarfed and swallowed by the surroundings. In contrast, Renton's profile occupies the entire vertical space of the shots during his monologue. I draw the conclusion that the mise-en-scene of the moor scene definitely connects to the film's theme of isolation, and that one of the reasons Renton is given a close-up (besides the narrative significance of his rant) is his self-centeredness and fear of being swallowed, as Tommy is when dwarfed by the cragged peak behind him.

The third theme evidenced in Trainspotting's mise-en-scene is highly symbolic, and becomes evident through the connection made earlier between the color green and nature, health, and life. Green is used chiefly in Trainspotting in the context of actual vegetation, and in the space around Dawn. When Dawn dies, though her space remains green, the light in the area goes out and thus the color is dampened, and after this, green is not seen again in the entire length of the film as a significant part of the mise-en-scene. This echoes the change in the character of Sick Boy, the idea that "nothing at all was going to be just fine... everything was going to be bad," and this change could be seen as a reflection of a much larger change in British society, away from optimism towards something darker, less green if you will-- defeatism.

With this analysis of Trainspotting's mise-en-scene, I dispute the conclusion of Barret Hodsdon, Adrian Martin, and others that was drawn more than a decade ago, that mise-en-scene as either a critical term or directorial approach is no longer viable for mainstream film. Trainspotting does not display aesthetic self-exhaustion or throwaway icons; it contains subtle nuances of mise-en-scene, both diegetic and non-diegetic, which neither detract from the plot nor are effaced by it, and serve quite well as cues to the film's interior meaning, in terms of both character and theme; and, as a film, it was commercially successful. While many of the films that can be pointed to as dominant cinema sadly lack in mise-en-scene, not all of them do, and to denounce an entire generation of directors, as well as generations to come, just because its audience frequently enjoys tripe is not entirely just.

* = Catchpole says "a quick point about the time the film is set - Trainspotting the book/film is meant to be set in the 80s (it's probably more obvious from the book). Example - when Renton and Begbie are discovering 'the summer of love' of 1988 when rave took off." I agree that this is evident in the book. However, this writeup is focused on the film, and I remember hearing about how there was a strong desire on the part of the film's creative team to show the cultural shifts from the 70s through to the 90s.

  • http://ctp.murdoch,, Martin.html

Many fans of Trainspotting wonder where the name came from. Trains play no part in the movie's plot at all — they aren't mentioned by anyone, or ever alluded to, or even made to seem remotely significant in any way. There are only two real trains in the American release of the movie — a bird's-eye view of one roaring by between scenes, and the one the boys ride when Tommy drags them into the country for a walk. The beginning of the movie introduces the title while the squealing of trains plays in the background, and the wallpaper of Rents' room is lined with trains. But these minor appearences of trains play no important roles, so why the name?

In England in the 1980s, the term "trainspotter" started being used to describe those who track the schedules and car numbers of passing trains. This practice wasn't very widespread, so as time passed and the public became aware of the practice, the term became used as a mildly derogative term for anyone obsessed over minute details, to the point of obsessive-compulsion, of anything; once in Q magazine, it was used to describe Beatles fans (June 1995, p. 16).

[...] through the late '80s in Britain, it ["trainspotting"] began to mean anybody who was obsessive about something trivial, and part of that is drugs. It's a very male thing. Women, they know better. It was a way in which men would conquer an area of life by just knowing everything about all the Sean Connery films.
Danny Boyle, director of the 1994 movie Trainspotting

The first thing is that heroin users mainline along their arms and inject up and down on the main vein. 'Station to station,' they call it. And for addicts, everything narrows down to that one goal of getting drugs. Maybe 'trainspotters' are like that, obsessively taking down the numbers of trains.
Ewan McGregor, actor, "Mark Renton"

ZamZ points out a connection with the train station in Leith, and is quite right. "[...] the origin of the connection seems to be that the characters spend much of their time hanging out in the abandonded Leith Central Station [in the book]. Leith is now merely that part of the City of Edinburgh around the docks, but was once a seperate city. The closure of its railway station, the loss of civic identity and vigour that that represents, reflects the anonymous social vacuum in which the characters live."1

Furthermore, after enough intravenous injections of anything, the vein that's getting the injections begins to collapse and turn a dark purple color. Heavy heroin users experience this even if they rotate injection spots; eventually the veins begin to darken and become quite noticable. British and American slang both call these darkened veins "train tracks." Given the "trainspotting" definition of watching and tracking trains, if the two ideas are combined, a "trainspotter" may mean someone whose hobby is keeping track of train tracks from heroin use.

Even with this definition of the title, there isn't a very strong connection to a part of the story. Of course, the ideal person to ask would be Irvine Welsh, who wrote the book, but he has not commented on the title.

Finally, the WordTips email newsletter answered the question "What does 'trainspotting' mean?" on October 26, 1998. Their interpretation of the connection between the hobby and heroin use? "The movie was comparing the meaninglessness of heroin addiction with the pointlessness of trainspotting."2

1: Bookshelved Wiki:
2: Cool List Digest Tue Oct 27 03:00:12 EST 1998:

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