Lust for Life, Not Nostalgia

Primarily dealing with the hardships of poverty, societal and consumerist rejection in an overpopulated, lower-class neighbourhood of Edinburgh, Trainspotting (1996) defined the Generation X of Scotland. The hybridity of the film largely comes from the point of view of the counterculture of the UK youth in the 1990s, as these young Scot’s reach their breaking point. The film follows a group of young, jaded addicts as they rebel against the status quo – while living in one of the least gentrified towns in the UK during the 1990s. The sense of urgency throughout the film, effectively shows us a glimpse of the harsh quality of life of the lower class of the UK.

The notion of embracing change and the innate desire to push toward a new beginning is heavily explored throughout Trainspotting (1996). Originally adapted from Irvine Welsh’s novel, Trainspotting (1966) is a juxtaposition of realism and surrealism, placed within the contemporary framework of blunt absurdity. Our enigmatic protagonist, Mark Renton is searching for a major adjustment in his life – before he even realizes how deep he has fallen into his addiction. Though, the problem with change runs deeper than our habits. Over the course of his journey, Renton discovers that to authentically have a fresh start, a colossal surrounding factor stands in the way – nostalgia. We are all familiar with the term, but often times the toxic ramifications of feeling nostalgic act as a closed door in front of us. The problem with nostalgia, is that it is a dirty liar. Nostalgia traps us in our comfort zones, sugar coats the bitter, and is apparently more addictive than heroin. Opportunities for a new beginning reappear in mutated ways. Although, various prospects of change surround us – like Renton, we often don’t see them until we need to. While ignoring his several confrontations with change, the toxicity of nostalgia prevents him from moving on until he chooses to create a new beginning for himself.

Each character faces roadblocks, as they occupy the same discouraging environment, with little to no encouragement within their friend group. As the disturbing realities of Trainspotting (1996) unfold, we begin to recognize that all of these friends are trapped in toxic friendships. Though, their self-destructive habits may be a product of their environment – they have become their comfort zones and evidently, they all struggle to progress in life by choosing to contaminate each other’s ambitions. Though, a handful of characters such as Renton and Spud do attempt to find jobs, something is always standing in the way. For instance, Renton’s eccentric friend, Spud puts himself out there by attending a job interview. This scene integrates this notion of attempting to go straight but is proven unachievable because Spud decides to dwell in his self-annihilation, by getting high before the interview. The interview is comprised of a group of jurors wide eyed as Spud rambles in a Speed induced monologue. The scene itself represents what Spud could achieve if he were willing to ditch his comfort zone. Positioned next to tropical wallpaper, we recognize what Spud could attain if he “chooses life”. Ultimately, the notion of change is unattainable – in the same way the tropical wallpaper is merely an artificial construction of the goals ingrained into Scotland’s Generation X’s hopes and dreams. Spud finds himself stuck enduring the same life, day after day. Meanwhile, Renton may have a nihilistic approach to change, but he recognizes the duality of change and nostalgia.

The film concludes with something much more optimistic than a promise, a choice. “But that’s gonna change – I’m going to change. This is the last of that sort of thing. Now I’m cleaning up and moving on, going straight and choosing life. I’m looking forward to it already.”