Renton's Maturity. An Analysis of the Character Development of the Protagonist in the Movie "Trainspotting"

Essay, 2014

15 Pages, Grade: 1.0

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1. Introduction

2. Renton’s Maturity
2.1 The Relapses
2.2 The Enlightenment

3. The Parasitic Friends

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography

1. Introduction

" Trainspotting" is a 1996 cult screen adaptation of Irvin Welsh's novel of the same name. Despite the fact that it has not been aimed at mass market audience it has become very popular. In a survey done by a British company HMV in 2012 "Trainspotting" has been recognized as the best British film 1 of the last 60 years.

The flick tells a story of four friends. Although, the only thing that they have in common is their drug addiction which leads every one of them to their own, personal destiny. The story is told from the perspective of a first person narrator Mark Renton. A young Scotsman who constantly tries to quit substance abuse and somehow become integrated with the world of adults. In parallel we become acquainted with his friends who are also drug addicted, good for nothing losers. An unexpected personal enrichment gives Mark an opportunity to finally change the course of his life.

Despite many disturbing scenes there is a great amount of humor in this film. As well as unusual cinematographic realisations.

Trainspotting features characteristics of a Bildungsroman2 which means that the inner development of the protagonist is more important than the plot.

Renton's maturity plays a key role in his drug withdrawal. The purpose of this term paper is to illustrate his maturity and the factors that lead to it.

There are four major aspects of this formation. The love and the guidance of Renton's parents, motivation to move forward in life, change of the environment and his decision making.

Mark Renton's formation consists of two phases. In the first phase he denials the reality by fleeing into drug consumption. Eventually he attains enlightenment which makes him strong enough to face the reality.

In the second part he breaks out of the negative environment that he was born into and faces the world of adults.

2. Renton’s Maturity

2.1 The Relapses

The opening credits start with a chase scene where we see Renton and his friend Spud running away from the security guards. Finally they get caught. Later on in the film we find out that Renton gets suspended. Whereas Spud has to serve his sentence in prison. During that sequence we hear Renton' s monologue which reveals his dilemma:

Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players, and electrical tin can openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol and dental insurance. Choose fixed-interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisure wear and matching luggage. Choose a three piece suite on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pissing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked-up brats you have spawned to replace yourself. Choose your future. Choose life . . . But why would I want to do a thing like that? 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?3

The anaphora "choose" has a rather ironic meaning. On the one hand it represents the freedom of choice that Renton has. On the other hand it stands for the loss of choice. Mark cannot choose life, meaning the environment he was born into. His surrounding influences his behaviour whether he wants it, or not. Renton was already born into poverty and despair. His character has been largely influenced by it. He cannot equally compete in the society due to his economic and educational disadvantages 4. Mark clearly criticises the idea of social equality and the apparent freedom of choice.

He has a very pessimistic view of the world. His argumentation is very typical5 for rebelling teenagers, or young adults. It usually revolves around the idea of a suppressive authority and overall criticism of "the system 6 ". It says that our freedom boils down to choosing the things that are irrelevant. Such as clothes, cars, jobs. It is consumerism7. There is no true freedom in it.

Mark describes a very common pattern of life for the western culture which always involves things such as having a "job", having children and consumption. This kind of planning appears very inhuman, almost robotic. At the end it is all about performance.

Renton features characteristics that are typical for the punk8 sub-culture. He has a very short hair, wears tight jeans and chuck tailors. He also listens punk music. A very essential aspect of this sub culture is rejection of civic values and rules.

Mark Renton is clearly a rebel. He does not want to obey to the system. At the same time there is no better alternative for him. He is unable to pursuit a career in Edinburg because he is an uneducated heroin addict. But he also does not want to lead a simple life like his parents.

Renton's parents are the stereotypical simple people who obey the rules and pursue their happiness of being able to choose between pepsi and cola. The metaphor "fucked up brats" refers to Mark and the choices that he lists are the ones made by his parents. He is a drug addict with no future. He is scared of the reality of his existence. He wants to get sober, but does not want to end up like his parents, living from pay check to pay check.

Following the footsteps of his parents he will not attain a life that he wants to have. He disobeys. But does not know how to assert himself. Out of despair he flies into drug abuse.

The camera brings the spectators to the drug house of Swanney "Mother Superior" where we see the whole group shooting heroin. Meanwhile the back stage voice of Mark Renton gives his view on the roots of the heroin addiction. The physical addiction plays a big role in Renton's development. He mentions that poverty and despair are not the main reason for an addiction. It is the pleasure that it gives. Unless they would not do drugs. Which leads to the conclusion that drug consumption is a conscious decision.

But the consequential addiction is not. However, it turns out that the physical addiction is not Renton's main problem. It is the bad environment, personal doubts and despair that create a barrier that hinders Renton from integrating with the society. Despair and hopelessness lead to drug abuse. The drug frenzy replaces the harsh reality. However, the life style of an addict leads to an even worse reality 9 making a withdrawal even harder. Renton's personality has changed to the point where he does not care about anything, but the drug.

Every time Renton is sober he faces the reality. Not having a girlfriend means no sex. Having a girlfriend means constant conflicts. A never ending cycle. Renton chooses heroin. His hypocritical friends condemn him for that choice. Begbie who smokes a lot and is an alcoholic tells Renton that drugs will ruin his life. Or Tommy whose only motivation to live is his girlfriend. Later on in the film his girlfriend leaves him and Tommy starts taking heroin. Begbie will sell heroin himself.

None the less, the condemnation of his environment gives the protagonist a motivation10 to quit. His plan comes down to isolating himself in his apartment in order to inhibit his access to heroin. This spontaneous withdrawal follows by an even more spontaneous relapse. Renton purchases opium from a local dealer and puts it into his rectum. All of the sudden he gets an irresistible urge to eliminate his bowel. After finding a contaminated toiled and finally defecating he realizes that opium is in the lavatory pan. We see a surreal scene where Renton dives into the lavatory pan which turns out to be a portal that leads him into a sea. At the bottom he successfully finds his drug.

This scene illustrates the power of Renton' s addiction. He is willing to dive into feces for it. His mind has no control over his cravings. Only a stronger craving, like an urge to defecate can dominate his cravings for a drug. Renton is a prisoner of his addiction. It controls him. During his first withdrawal he does not really quit heroin. He just suppresses it with other drugs.

Renton manages to stay away from heroin for a while, but relapses quickly. It turns out that the reality is simply too harsh for him11.

Renton' s sexual potency has come back, as he stopped taking heroin. He decides to go to the nightclub Volcano to find a female partner. Reality hits him quickly. Women do not want to have anything to do with him. He ends up standing in a corner with other male outcasts. He lacks charm and skill12 when it comes to a romantic interaction with women. Meanwhile all of Renton's friends have girlfriends and pay no attention to him. He realizes how much of a looser he really is.

Suddenly Renton notices a young woman standing beside the bar. It is Diane. She seems to be disinterested in men who try to start a conversation with her and is about to leave. Renton decides that she is the one.

Male to female relationship is a big theme in "Trainspotting". Most women are portrayed as being manipulative and insensitive, making their men weaker. Meanwhile not having a female partner is associated with low success in life in general.

In many cultures femininity is associated with fertility 13, with life. They are a motivational factor for males in Trainspotting. Everyone of the group, even cynical Sick Boy need women. He needs them so much that he becomes very successful at seducing them. He also idolizes and imitates Sean Connery who has always been classified as the male sex- symbol14.

After having a short conversation outside the club Diane and Renton go to her apartment where they have a sexual intercourse. It turns out that Diane is only fifteen years old which makes their relationship illegal. But Diane wants to have a relationship with Renton.

Being rejected from many women Renton finally finds the one who rejects other man. A man who appears to be of a higher status than Renton. This indicates Diane's sympathy for him. Her being a symbol of fertility means that she sees something in Renton. His potential15.

The same night Spud is too drunk to have sex with his girlfriend Gail. Next morning he finds himself lying in his own feces. Accidently, he pours his feces over Gail and her parents while trying to pull the duvet cover that was full of it out of Gail's mother's hands.

The feces are a symbol for Spud being unworthy16. His unworthiness is being exposed in front of Gail's parents who want a better partner for her daughter.


1 James Hall. (28 May 2012). Trainspotting and Iron Maiden top Jubilee poll. Retrieved from

2 Blanckenburg, Friedrich. Versuch über den Roman (Stuttgart: facsimile-print of the original edition from 1774, Metzler-library 39, 1965

3 Trainspotting. Dir. Danny Boyle. Polygram Filmed Entertainment, 1996. DVD, 00:00:00

4 "Our success as parents depends in large measure on the character and the quality of the social environment that we raise our children in. " Carbarino, James. Children and Families in The social environment. (New York, Aldine Pub.,1982)

5 "Belief in conspiracies was correlated with anomia, lack of interpersonal trust, and insecurity about emp loyment. ... Young people were slightly more likely to believe in conspiracy theories." Goertzel, Ted. Political Psychology, Vol. 15, No. 4 (Richmond, ISPP, 1994) P. 731

6 "The power of the New World Order, which is the system of the Anti-Christ has already been established. We are already under the effects of the consciousness and corrupted systems that will place the one in power." Wolf, Robert. Days of Destiny: Cosmic Prophecies for the 21st Century (Santa Fe, Wolf Lodge Cultural Foundation, 2003) P. 57

7 George Carlin perfectly summarizes the essence of western consumerism in his stand-up special. Consumption. This is the new national pastime. Fuck baseball, it's consumption, the only true, lasting American value that's left . . . buying things . . . People spending money they don't have on things they don't need . . . So they can max out their credit cards and spend the rest of their lives paying 18 percent interest on something that cost $12.50. And they didn't like it when they got it home anyway. Not too bright, folks, not too fuckin' bright. Carlin, George Life Is Worth Losing 2006 stand-up-comedy

8 Charlotte Guillain,. Punk: Music, Fashion, Attitude!. (London, Capstone Global Library Limited, 2011) P. 4, 14, 20

9 The quality of life of an addict sinks the more dugs he takes.

10 " Th e only drawback, or at least the principal drawback, is that you have to endure cunts telling you..." Trainspotting, 00:04:38 Then there is a sequence where Renton's parents, Tommy and Begbie condemn him for taking drugs.

11 Watson mentions that coming under the influence of drugs is a very common way of escaping reality among young people who have failed in life. Shirley Watson, Reality Therapy-A Workable Approach for Adolescents (Lincoln, iUniverse, 2005 ) P.5

12 Renton approaches Diane with an inferior pick-up-line "Excuse me, excuse me. I don't mean to harass you, but I was very impressed with the capable and stylish manner in which you dealt with that situation. And I was thinking to myself, now this girl's special." Trainspotting, 00:23:45

13 "Many symbols of female sexuality have to do with fertility. In earlier centuries , reproduction, human fertility, and continuation of the species were some of the greatest preoccupations of human kind." Giovanna Ambrosio, Language, Symbolization and Psychosis (London, Karnac Books, 2007) P. 214

14 Andrew Yule, Sean Connery: From 007 to Hollywood Icon (Kensington, Kensington Publishing Corporation, 1993) P, 365

15 Renton becomes a successful real estate agent

16 Spud is addicted to drugs and is not very intelligent.

15 of 15 pages


Renton's Maturity. An Analysis of the Character Development of the Protagonist in the Movie "Trainspotting"
University of Bonn
Catalog Number
ISBN (Book)
File size
492 KB
Drugs In Literature, Trainspotting, Bildungsroman, English Studies, Renton, Irvin Welsh, drugs
Quote paper
Vladislav Ibragimov (Author), 2014, Renton's Maturity. An Analysis of the Character Development of the Protagonist in the Movie "Trainspotting", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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