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Trainspotting: Renton

The film's irresponsible, sarcastic junkie narrator

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We join Mark Renton as he dashes through the streets of Edinburgh, pursued by store detectives after shoplifting to feed his heroin addiction. This energetic scene, accompanied by Iggy Pop's 'Lust for Life', opens Trainspotting - along with Renton's sarcastic narration, which rejects our dim, mechanical existence in favour of the joys of shooting up.

"People associate it with misery, desperation and death, which is not to be ignored. But what they forget is the pleasure of it, otherwise we wouldn't do it," he says. Renton is our guide on the life tour of this bunch of junkies. He is a man with desperate issues in his life, but he first appears as an acidly charming anti-hero, wheeling through his habit with a detached nonchalance.

He is at pains to point out the pleasure accrued by heroin ("Take the best orgasm you've ever had, multiply by 1000, and you're still nowhere near it"), but within the first five minutes of the film he has decided to kick it. This, it seems, is the end of it, time to move on and face life. Renton is clearly disgusted by society and the materialistic pleasures it offers. The bond he has with his friends is merely the common goal of scoring the next hit; when he's off drugs he has to face life's realities: maintaining relationships, meeting girls, everyday responsibilities are suddenly thrust to the fore. It's this effort, culminating in a mountain walk arranged by Tommy, which leads him to take the "healthy, informed and democratic decision to get back on heroin as soon as possible."

For a time Renton has a full-blown habit, supported by shoplifting and petty theft, before being forced off the drug after narrowly avoiding a prison sentence. His 'last hit' between methadone prescriptions, which results in an overdose, seems like merely an effort to avoid conforming, to shun the straight and narrow. It is this wilful outsider attitude which perhaps explains heroin's appeal to Renton: "We'd inject Vitamin C if they made it illegal," he says.

His victory over the drug is not quite as life affirming as it should be, as he becomes contaminated by a more legitimate but scarcely more savoury existence - hanging out with the sharp-suited hyenas on the London property circuit. After embarking on a scam to sell 4 kilos of heroin with his old cohorts, Renton absconds with the loot. Marching into a brave new tomorrow, he has decided to 'choose life', be 'just like us' - a dubious ambition, the merits of which the film questions throughout.

Paul Clarke

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