Exploring Soundtracks: Trainspotting


Today in Exploring Soundtracks, we’ll be looking at Danny Boyle’s hit, “Trainspotting”, based on the novel with the same name by Irvine Welsh. The critically-acclaimed film features a killer pop and punk soundtrack, a stellar cast, and a story that will make you never want to try heroin in your life.

“Trainspotting” follows the story of Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) as he tries to kick his heroin addiction. Throughout the film, Renton struggles with this addiction, and is continually roped back into the same life by his friends Spud, Sick Boy, and Begbie. While the film deals with drug addiction as a main theme, it also explores urban poverty and life in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Even for those unfamiliar with bands like Blur, Iggy Pop, Brian Eno, and Lou Reed, this soundtrack works as a good gateway drug into another world of music. Just don’t let it be a gateway to emulate anyone in this film.

Lust For Life

“Trainspotting” opens with Iggy Pop’s  joyous and carefree “Lust For Life”. As it plays, we’re introduced to our main characters, tearing through the streets of Edinburgh at a frenetic pace.

And as we follow them, Ewan McGregor monologues as Renton, laying out the philosophy of a heroin junkie. He lists all the comforts of modern life, “Choose life, choose a career, choose a job, choose a f***ing big television…”, he goes on and on, until, “but why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life. Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin?”

“Lust For Life” is the perfect accompaniment to this opening. It matches the same hedonistic pursuit Renton and his group of friends find themselves in. This is the energy for the first half of the film, as we’re shown the alluring and seductive side of living this way. It’s the argument to continue using heroin for Renton.

The first half of “Trainspotting” is a joyous romp through Edinburgh, with no thought to responsibility or consequences. The second half, as we’ll get into, strikes a rather different tone. In it, we’ll see the argument against hedonism, drugs, and irresponsibility.

Turning Point

Just before the halfway point in the film, we hear another Iggy Pop tune, “Nightclubbing”. The timing of the next few scenes is spot on. During “Nightclubbing”, we get another monologue by Renton. “At, or around this time, Spud, Sick Boy, and I made a healthy, informed, democratic decision to get back on heroin as soon as possible”.

Cue Iggy Pop’s “Nightclubbing”, which plays as the three swipe drugs and go thieving around the city. During the sequence, Renton’s clean friend Tommy starts using heroin as well. This is the relapse back into the same world we were introduced to in the beginning, with the new stakes of a lost friend.But that’s just a setup for the real tragedy.


In Renton’s group of drug-addicted friends, there is a mother named Allison. Her baby is seen in the opening sequence, alive, healthy, and happy. But here, at the halfway point, the group of friends is dealt a crushing blow when they find it dead in its crib.

This haunting and unsettling scene is followed by the gang’s reactive dive further into the grips of drug use. We cut to the chase scene from the beginning, but this time Blur’s “Sing” is playing. The change re-contextualizes the scene for us as we see the ugly side of Renton’s lifestyle choices.

Perfect Day

The chase ends with Renton getting caught and entering a drug intervention program. It doesn’t take long for him to cheat. His next time shooting up results in an overdose as Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” plays.  This is possibly the most cinematic portrayal of a drug overdose depicted on screen.

Renton, motionless, sinks into the floor. His dealer then calls a taxi to take him to the hospital. We see through his perspective a few times, with the red shag rug he fell through framing his vision. He’s carted off to the emergency room, given a shot of adrenaline, and revived.

All the while, “Perfect Day”‘s poignant lyrics punctuate the scene. “You just keep me hanging on”, and especially, ending with, “You’re going to reap just what you sow”.

This is the real turning point for Renton, where he hits an all time low. From this point on in the film, we see Renton putting real changes into his life. He moves to England, gets a job and a flat. Life is good, better. His final hurdle in the movie comes from dealing with his leech-like friends, who follow him, and try to rope him back into their world. But I won’t spoil the ending here.


You can pick up the “Trainspotting” soundtrack over at the LemonWire store.




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