‘The Worst Toilet in Scotland’


(Great Britain / Danny Boyle, 1996)

At the start of Trainspotting, Renton (Ewan McGregor) has again decided to give up heroin but needs ‘one final hit to soothe the pain while the Valium takes effect’. He visits a dealer and takes two opium suppositories. Walking home, the constipation caused by his last hit of heroin subsides and he abruptly doubles over. Desperate to defecate, he races to a nearby betting shop. As the shop’s bathroom door swings shut behind him, it reveals a sign reading ‘TOILET’. The words ‘the worst’ appear to the left of it and ‘in Scotland’ appear to the right.

The toilet bowl lives up to its billing. It is foul, clogged by putrid things that look like excrement and putrid things that look far worse. Renton tries to flush it and the chain breaks off in his hand. The imminent explosion in his bowels overrides the revulsion in his stomach and he sits down. It is only when he has finished that he realizes his precious suppositories are now dissolving somewhere in the toilet. Retching, he fishes for them with his hand but cannot find them. For him, the next course of action is obvious. In search of the suppositories, he clambers headfirst into the toilet and squeezes himself through it, completely disappearing into the toxic water below.

Trainspotting’s toilet bowl is a perfect image with which to begin Renton’s story. It is a testimony to the power of addiction. The toilet is deliberately the most revolting object the film, or its audience, can imagine. And yet, when it swallows his drugs, Renton climbs into it with little hesitation. The metaphor is unmistakable: his heroin habit has dragged his life into a cesspool. But the toilet is a metaphor for our experience as well as for his. When we follow Renton into that toilet, it is made obvious to us that, by continuing to watch Trainspotting, we are descending into some of the filthiest lives we have ever followed in a film. The Worst Toilet in Scotland is a gateway into a movie that, the toilet warns us, is never going to censor itself.

Illustration by Charlie Marshall
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