Dir. Danny Boyle
Well this one was inevitable wasn't it? One of the most recognizable and iconic objects in all of film, the as-titled 'worst Toilet in Scotland' is a revolting thing, and shows us the lengths our protagonist, Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) will go to continue his addiction to heroin. Thanks to Miramax, you can watch this scene in glorious HD here.
Mark has purchased suppositories to fulfill his hit, and has inserted them anally. He tells us in a voice-over that one of the (as we will see in the film, many) downsides of heroin addiction is constipation. His last hit is fading, the suppositories haven't taken effect, and so he, to but it bluntly, needs to shit, very very badly. He runs, doubled over, to the nearest toilet, residing in a betting shop. The patrons stare at this skin-head junkie, as Renton fantasies of 'a massive, pristine convenience'. What he's met with...isn't.
There's a few things at play stylistically. Boyle has a fish-eye type lens used as Renton sees the patrons stare at him. Their leering judgement is amplified this way, and we get a sense of Renton being an 'other'. The way Renton sets up his fantasy of an ideal bathroom and toilet is very much contrasted by the toilet he finds. The titles that infrequently appear in the film do make an appearance here, overlain on the sides of the hanging 'Toilet' sign, to tell us, with full hyperbole, that it's the worst toilet in Scotland. Honestly, I'd be hard-pressed to disagree.
The room is filthy. Broken taps and urinals, covered in dirty water, the water itself full of mud, piss and shit. No seat on the toilet, grime and shit caked into the porcelain, the water brown. Renton, revolted, has no other choice, an attempt to flush is met with a broken chain, he has to sit, relieving himself in bliss. Then he realizes to his horror that the suppositories have been lost in the process, so he gets on his knees and searches with his hands in the foul, soiled water, retching as he does it.
We then get a mark of brilliance, which is what makes this scene so unique. As he searches and searches, Renton begins to climb and fall into the toilet basin. It's clearly impossible, and is a fantastical representation of what this search feels like to Renton. Whimsical, classical music begins to play from the opera Carmen (you'll know the one) as Mark falls into the toilet, legs sticking directly up, comically.
In the water, the music is similarly uplifting. It makes Renton's trial to retrieve his suppositories an epic affair, as he swims in clear water to a rock floor, finding the drugs he needs, letting out a bubbled cry "Yes, I'm fucking dancing!". It's utterly fantastical and once again, contrasts with the revolting bathroom. The music swells as he re-emerges, a hand at first, then a head spitting water, gasping for air.
We cut to Renton, in his room, walking to his table, with suppositories in hand. He tells us "And now...I'm ready". He's ready for withdrawal, and after what we've just seen, boy does he need it!
Trainspotting is a film that deals with the allure of heroin addiction, and how, when addicted, the world seems bright, and yet when sober, the world is bleak. The title refers to this, as the hobby of trainspotting seems utterly pointless to an outsider, and yet to an enthusiast, it makes complete sense. Heroin addiction is the same, and the film deals with this in detail, with the death of an infant, and the haunting of this loss life during withdrawal as the absolute low-points, as well as, of course, the toilet scene.
The toilet scene acts then as a sort of prelude to the themes of the film, a fantastical simplification occurring soon after the bold 'Choose life', Lust for Life opening. We see how far into the dirt, and the literal shit, that Renton will go to have one final hit. How good must this drug be, to be worth all this? Clearly, good enough. Again, as outsiders, it seems ridiculous to imagine anything worth this much trouble, but again, that's the point.
The almost religious Valhalla conveyed by the clear water Renton swims in, the music, and the shininess of the suppositories, white - pure, like the taps in Renton's fantasy bathroom, tell us that through drugs, Mark reaches a state of ascension, not beyond his horrific surroundings, but through them.