The Ending of Trainspotting
One of the most famous scenes of the 1996 Scottish classic Trainspotting is its ending shot, which is played alongside Renton’s internal monologue about choosing a life away from hard drugs and his horrible friends. This monologue is important for viewers because it contrasts with Renton’s opening speech, which earnestly advocated drug use in place of a meaningful existence. It would seem that Renton has changed for the better. But, how can we really be sure of that? After all, Renton decides to quit heroin several times in the movie and eventually relapses. Is this scene really a pivotal moment in an upward trajectory for Renton’s life? Or is it another in a long list of lies that Renton tells himself throughout the film?
Trainspotting is a film about the difficulties associated with “choosing life” (meaning living a normal life of fulfillment and contentment) instead of addiction. Renton does this after he kicks heroin and gets a job in a real estate firm. But, after encountering Begbie again, Renton slips back into Edinburgh’s seedy underworld of crime and drugs. The fact that he so easily gives up on “life” shows that Renton is addicted to his old lifestyle. We could see this happening again after the film ends, since Renton seems to lack some willpower.
On the other hand, this ending scene is the first time Renton acknowledges, “I’m a bad person.” Here, Renton is admitting he has a problem, which is really the first time he vocally acknowledges this. Acceptance of one’s problem is the beginning step on the road to recovery, so it would seem Renton has progressed in that regard. Another hopeful aspect of the ending is Renton’s gift of money to Spud. This shows that Renton has realized who his real friends are, and this is another instance of progress and change in Renton’s character. Renton has developed the ability to view his circumstances in a more critical way. This shows that Renton is now a more level-headed individual, so he will make good decisions in the future. We can assume from this that he will stay off drugs.
It is notable that Renton speaks with eagerness and anticipation when listing the aspects of a drug-free life. This contrasts to his list at the beginning of the film, which was spoken with a sense of cynicism and boredom. Renton shows excitement about “choosing life,” and that may mean he will commit to his decision. Also, the last three things he mentions are, “getting by, looking ahead, the day you die.” Renton does not mention these last three intangible possessions during the first scene. This shows that living a drug-free existence is more than just buying up material possessions. Living a meaningful life, Renton realizes, is just that: meaningful. Renton now believes that people living the day-to-day “normal” life actually have significant reasons to “look ahead.” These intangibles might include important personal connections with real friends or the very knowledge that one has conquered an addiction. The fact that Renton has this epiphany might be the biggest indication that he will live a drug-free future.
The final shot of the film illustrates Renton walking in a straight line towards the camera. This implies that Renton will be on the “straight and narrow” in the future. Also, since he is coming into the foreground of the shot, Renton’s figure gets larger and larger as the shot progresses. This mirrors his personal growth and his positive life adjustments.
Renton may have been an unreliable and unpredictable character throughout most of Trainspotting, but several aspects of his powerful ending speech imply that he has changed a great deal. From Renton’s word choice to the cinematography of the movie’s final shot, we can understand this as a hopeful ending that advocates change and self-discipline.
Boyle, Danny. Trainspotting. Miramax, 1996. Film.
(Image courtesy of https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t0D4ekTODuA)