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‘Trainspotting’ is a film directed by Danny Boyle based on the novel by Irvine Welsh, which holds the same title. The film is set in Edinburgh, Scotland it focuses on a group of heroin addicts during a time when Scotland was going through an economic depression, the film follows the lives of these heroin addicts. These heroin addicts are as follows, Renton, Spud, Sick Bo, Tommy, and Begbie, the protagonist being Renton. For this essay I will be discussing the theme of personal identity in the movie ‘Trainspotting’, this is a very significant theme throughout the film as each character struggles with their own personal identity in their own significant ways. They let their addiction to heroin take over their own identity, which makes it difficult for them to find their own selves, which leads them to a passive way of living their life.
Trainspotting is a prime example of cinematic realism as it represents the reality of heroin addiction and how hard it is for people to find motivation when they are in the state, while also fighting against a society that is experiencing an economic depression, “It points to the existence of certain groups of discourse and refers to the status of the discourse within a society and culture”. This leads the group of heroin addicts, to live an apathetic lifestyle the heroin gives them little motivation to do any beneficial activities, which forces them into a rut in society, making them question their own personal identity. Being Scottish is part of their personal identity, each character in the novel, struggles with finding any valuable factors of being Scottish making them again feel as though their personal identity is somewhat worthless as the nation of Scotland is shown to be worthless and useless, especially under British rule. They all go through a period in the film where they try to give up heroin or at least try to stay away from it, it proves harder than expected, letting most of the characters give into their addiction letting them again, have their identity be taken over by addiction. The film represents a subculture in Scotland, who are not often spoken about, the people who are addicts, who thrive off stealing and being a bad person, the heroin addicts in this film are very much part of this subculture. The subculture where,” their universe attains a meaning that is derived through this subculture that has been created through drugs, music and a shared sense of powerless”, is evident in each character’s identities.
Renton the protagonist of Trainspotting, at the start of the film, portrays to viewers how he has chosen this path in life, representing his own identity, the opening speech, reflects what of time of the character Renton. He portrays himself as a man who knows what he wants in life, and who is confident in himself, in reality, he is stricken with heroin addiction and is living a passive life, leading him down a destructive path. The film follows Renton as he tries to give up heroin while also trying to stop getting influenced by his toxic friend group, the fact that the film is narrated by Renton, shows the distance between him and his friend group. In the opening scene with the narration by Renton, “I chose not to choose life, I chose something else. And the reasons? There are no reasons, who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin?”. The opening sequence and narration depict how much Renton’s identity is taken up by heroin, he holds heroin as a necessity in his life and works his life around heroin. One of the most degrading scenes in the film is “The worst toilet in Scotland”, this shows the real side of how desperate people can become when it comes to getting high.
This scene shows how much addiction has taken over Renton, he ends up going into a toilet that is covered in feces to get the drugs he lost, this scene shows the harsh reality of what addiction can do to a person, desperation outweighs disgust, as heroin outweighs addiction. Renton has no respect for himself or his identity during this scene, as he partakes in disgusting actions without thinking of the repercussions. This scene alone resonates with viewers in the fact that it shows the desperate measures addicts will go to get their hit, “Renton’s gasping surface from his dive, his extraction of himself from the toilet and its contents (in which he finds himself both literally and metaphorically covered) returns the audience by degrees, to the social realism the scene has triumphantly vacated”. This scene shows how much heroin is still very much a part of Renton’s identity even though, he is currently off the drug.
Danny Boyle the director of the film wanted to give a realistic depiction of drug-taking, and how it affects a person,” There’s half the film which is obviously considerably darker. If you prolong the experience with drugs, your life will darken. The film doesn’t try to hide that, but it also doesn’t try to hobble along with the moral consensus”. Drugs seem to take over the character’s identity in this film, it is the first thing they think of, in any situation, one of the harsh realities of addiction becomes clear in the scene where baby Dawn is found dead, in this scene Renton is again narrating, they do not know the cause of the babies died or how long she has been dead, this is a heart-wrenching scene which comes from neglect because of their reliance on heroin, “She might have been screaming for a week for all I knew. I’ve heard anyone speak, though surely someone must have said something in all that time, surely to fuck someone must-have”. This is the height of their heroin addiction, it clearly the biggest priority in their life, after Allison witnesses Renton “cooking up”, her mind shifts away from her dead baby but back to heroin. After this scene, the characters begin to change they focus themselves more on other activities rather than heroin, as baby Dawn because of neglect due to heroin addiction. Renton himself, takes a leap in the right direction, by deciding to go cold turkey, this is difficult, but he does this in a way to regain his identity, as, over the last few years, it has been taken over by his heroin addiction.
Being Scottish is also a huge part of the character’s personal identity, it influences their actions and beliefs, even if they have no regard for being Scottish, they find it degrading, and they are in a state of dissatisfaction with their identity part of Scotland. Tommy takes the Spud, Sick Boy, and Renton out to the Highlands, where he expresses how he is proud to be Scottish, Renton whole fully disagrees with the statement. Renton expresses his distaste for having his identity being related to Scotland, “It shite being Scottish! We’re the lowest of the low. The scum of the fucking Earth! The most wretched, miserable, servile, pathetic trash that was ever shat into civilization”. This is a clear identification of how the society of Scotland viewed themselves at this time, being Scottish is part of their identity, making them feel unsatisfied with their own personal identity, and the fact that the rest of the lads don’t speak after Renton’s speech shows they agree. They use heroin as a way to distract themselves from the unjust and disheveled society of Scotland, they represent the Scottish generation of drug users who were prevalent in the time that Trainspotting the novel was written, “For this is the Scotland beloved by tourists-by the idle middle class, in other words, and it’s the very Scotland that drives the boys back to heroin after their first try at kicking the habit”. Each character struggles with their own personal identity as they try to overcome the addiction they have to heroin. In the final scene of the film, we see Renton betraying his friends by running away from them with the money they had agreed to divide amongst themselves. With Renton leaving we see him taking over his own identity, he vows to become better, and decides to choose the path of life that he was criticized at the beginning of the film, “The truth is that I’m a bad person, but that’s going to change, I’m going to change. This is the last of this sort of thing. I’m cleaning up and I’m moving on, going straight and choosing a life”. Since Renton has become clean from heroin, he is able to think clearly, which leads him to be able to make more decisions that will benefit his life, this is a drastic turnaround from where we saw Renton in the beginning of the film, as the opening monologue is Renton speaking about how he chose heroin instead of life, he has now chosen life over heroin.
Characters’ struggle with their own personal identity is evident, throughout Trainspotting, each character has a struggle with addiction, being with heroin or alcohol which has an effect on their identity as it is being taken over by their struggle with addiction. Throughout the film we can see how heroin has drastic effects on their lives, it influences their decision making, distracts them from real-life issues, which leads to devasting consequences such as baby Dawn and Tommy’s death, Renton’s overdose, it has become a big part of their own identities. Trainspotting is a realist film, it represents the generation of Scottish that were stricken with the same identity crisis, as the association with being Scottish, influenced their heroin addictions. This film represents the generation of Scotland, who participated in unjust actions to support their addictions, which lead to their personal identity being overshadowed by their addictions and the desperate actions that came with being an addict. Renton the protagonist, eventually decides to fight his addiction, which leads him to make better life choices for himself. By the end of the film, Renton is able to relate more to his personal identity as he resonates with the fact he is a bad person but is willing to change as he chooses life over heroin, he takes control of his personal identity at the end. Personal identity is a driving force in the film to how the characters act, like the fact that they struggle with addiction and their national identity has an effect on how they view themselves.
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