Trainspotting presents an ostensible image of fractured society. The 1996 film opens, famously, with a series of postulated choicesvariables, essentially, in the delineation of identity and opposition. Significant here is the tone in which these options are deliveredit might be considered the rhetorical voice of society, a playful exposition of the pressure placed on individuals to make the "correct" choices, to conform to expectation.
As such, the introduction might be read as contributing to the formation of two narrative constructs: that of "normality"or at least that considered "normality" by prevailing ideologyand that of "subnormality," the remainder. In its uncompromising rejection of the former, the commentary of Ewan McGregor's Renton roots him thoroughly in the latter.
We see this division alluded to on a number of occasions. In the nightclub, for example, Renton quickly notices how the "successful" separate themselves from the "unsuccessful"the former group embracing their newly-found partners and the latter nodding their heads sheepishly. "Success" is, however, more often linked with boredom and absurditywith the easy life, with game-shows and bingo; "failure," despite its inherent misery and hardship, is shown to be exhilarating: a knife-edge. The tension inherent in this opposition is offered, arguably, as a reason for the behavioural patterns depicted; "what people forget is the sheer pleasure of it," as Renton confesses.
We might describe the group of friends, united by failure, as classic anti-heroes; as characters with whom we sympathise despite the horrors they commit. It is a reading underpinned by nihilism, and one can't help but recall the Zarathustrian "Table of Values" expounded by Nietzsche. The existence of different subcultures, defined by values which may completely contradict those of other groups, accords with a wider postmodern refutation of absolutes. These subcultures operate because the world around them is open to interpretation, and if an interpretation is justified, it is arguably as valid as one which directly opposes it.
The imposition of a universal set of values, like that of the law, for example, is a product of powerand, liberally speaking, an injustice. Renton notes that his mother, on tranquillisers, "is, in her own socially acceptable way, also a drug addict." Because these particular characters' choice of lifestyle conflict with that of the dominant order, they are marginalisedforced to live in squalor and filth. This is something signified in the mise-en-scene: theirs is a world of repugnant toilets; of splattered walls, doors and floors; of soiled bed-sheets; of buckets for "urine," "vomittus" and "faeces."
Fittingly, there is an equally strong argument to the contrary. Begbie proves an unreliable narrator, yet appears to act without conscience or consequence; Sick Boy, portrayed early on as a closet philosopher, is rendered mute after the death of his son. Some things are...