Trainspotting (1996) is a film directed by Danny Boyle based on the novel of Irvine Welsh. It is a British black comedy-drama. The story is about a group of heroin addicts in a late 1980s economically depressed area of Edinburgh and their passage through life. Drug addiction, youth subculture, exploration of urban poverty and squalor in Edinburgh are the themes in the film.

The director of the film makes use of wide angles, bright colors, attractively entertaining compositions. This film has shown unique camera angles and filming techniques. I have read once that, due to a lack of budget and time constraints, most scenes were done in one take, which contributed to the inventive camera-work of the film.

In an interview of Danny Boyle where he was asked regarding the striking features of Trainspotting in its inventive camera-work particularly the low-angle shots, he said, “That was a big thing which we decided early on, that the camera was going to be on the deck a lot. No matter where these characters were that’s essentially where they were going to end up – on the floor – so we should just be there and wait for them. That was the basic aesthetic and we just followed it through. You have to plan this in advance and announce it clearly, so that the cameraman has to figure out how to get the camera mobile down there. It was very difficult to do but it was worth it.”

The first minutes of the film have already established the film and its genre, also the things that will be discussed.

The film starts with Mark Renton (McGregor) and Spud (Bremner) running down the street pursued by police or store guards. This shows the behind of the main character running; the emphasis is on his feet and the environment he is running in. The pace he is running at and the movement of his feet are in beat with the music (Iggy Pop). It is effective as the audience is drawn further in to the film from the offset.


Although it is evident that the road he is running down is rather busy because of the people alongside, there appears to be a clear space for him to run. In that case, it allows the audience to be more focused on the character. The fact that the opening scene is just a close up of feet – It leaves the audience curious to know who it is running, it creates interest and curiosity.

This one shows Renton and Spud running towards the camera. It is a mid-shot them running, with a group of people running towards them. The fact they are running, displays that they have done something wrong or reason to be running. Renton’s shirt appears to be undone or torn – implies that perhaps he does not have much money to have smarter clothes. The direct eye contact with the camera is rather intimidating and can be unnerving. It is effective to get the audience compassion.


This shot is a POV shot from Rento’s view. This is very useful as to display the protagonist’s point of view to create further a feeling of empathy.


From the POV shot it switches to mid-shot when he runs and gets hit by the car. This is a great use of match on action.


Wide shot of the group running away under bridge getting smaller – contrasting from their figure at the start means they are not as powerful as they first seem to be. Also, the bridge could be taken as “seeing light at the end of the tunnel” as Renton tries to escape a life of heroin.


Action shots (consists of long angle shot, long shot, mid shot) of the group during football game – showing their character, you have the weedy one, the loud one, the fierce one, the joker, the realist etc. The framing for each shot represents the characters personality or possible characteristics.


The camera is with the person or subject. By then you begin to be part of the film. Mid close up silhouette of man’s side profile – leaves suspense, and makes the silhouette changeable.


The 180 degree rule as camera pans over his body. Out of focus on his body focusing on the images in the background is drawing attention to the squalor in which he lives. Wanting the audience to realize what’s he’s up to.


The camera pans across the baby in one doorway then tracks into the heroin session in the next room. This a very meaningful shot, showing the fine divide between reality and another world. It also contrasts the story of life, showing a fragile innocence in one doorway and a life of drugs in another. From this it connotes two possible path ways; chooses to change.


Bird’s eye view shot of Spud supports the statement that there are two lifestyles in one household. This shot is within the heroin doorway, with only a brick wall dividing from the naive innocence of the baby. Spud is establishing the typical household routine, and is framed by the rule of thirds.


In Trainspotting, camera positioning, editing and lighting contribute to the overall dark, fast paced theme and message of the movie. These elements give a realistic and intense view of drug abuse and social reality and problem.

The use of camera positioning gives an immediate energy to the movie. Most shots in this movie are close up shots used to “direct attention to important features of a scene’s action or meaning.”

This clips show the worst toilet in Scotland, which signifies as a metaphor of the place in Renton’s view.


From these clips the audience can easily get the message the film wants to convey. Unlike the relentless gloom of Edinburgh, London is shown in bright daylight; Big Ben and Nelson’s Column are unusual angles.


This clip is where we can see how Renton distastes Scotland. He was presented in a tourist view of Scotland but he said, “It’s shite being Scottish. We’re the lowest of the low; the scum o’ the fuckin’ earth. The most wretched, miserable, servile, pathetic trash that was ever shat into civilisation. Some people hate the English – I don’t, they’re just wankers. We on the other hand were colonised by wankers; can’t even find a decent culture to be colonised by. We’re ruled by effete arseholes; it’s a shite state of affairs to be in, Tommy, and all the fresh air in the world won’t make any fuckin’ difference.”


When, Renton accepts his job and simply moves in London even having difficulties shows Renton’s ultimate escape from heroin and from Scottishness lies in London. By then, he ‘choose life’.

Renton’s decision at the end of the film to rip-off his ‘mates’ marks his final acceptance of Britishness. He initially tries to isolate himself from the world, again returning to the interior world of the heroin addict, and claims that there was no society and even if there was he doesn’t care but he is soon becoming integrated into life in London.

At the end of the film, as Renton flees away from his friends for the last time and was smiling represent that he wins, because he overcome his addiction and now walks into new life. Renton use voice-over clearly indicates that this reflects his new approach to his ‘choose life’.



Notes from my past ICT subject, we actually watch and analyze this film many times because my professor really admires the camera movements and shots per scene.

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