Friday, 27 October 2017

Cinema Scent: Trainspotting (dir. Danny Boyle; 1996)

The layer of scent that is forever hovering a few inches above the surface of Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting (still his best work, arguably) is almost unremittingly scatological. Based on the Irvine Welsh novel and telling the story of a group of addicts stumbling through Edinburgh's drug scene, the film is populated by people who look as though they eat, sleep and get high in the same clothes all the time. It's not surprising that their surroundings - those relentless stretches of peeling wallpaper, the depressing pavements - seem to absorb the odour of sweat, alcohol and cigarettes. Even the colours appear to project a smell: the stench of the interior of Mother Superior’s flat is somehow made more despairing, more piercing, through the use of that deep indigo for the walls.

Of course, as most will attest, the olfactory highlight of the film is the infamous Worst Toilet In Scotland sequence. Appropriately enough, Chanel No. 5 gets a mention in the prelude to this most gag-inducing of scenes, just before Ewan McGregor’s Renton plunges deep into the murky bowl, hunting for a couple of suppositories. Cinema can be adept at conveying foul stenches, and this episode is a prime example of that ability. Thanks to McGregor’s stomach-churning performance, the crime-scene lighting and the use of imprisoning close ups, it’s hard not to feel that we’re in that toilet too, which is why the cut to a shot of clear, blue water comes as such relief.

Towards the end of the movie, it is smell which gives Renton a vital push. When Robert Carlyle’s Begbie blows a cloud of cigarette smoke straight into his face, he coughs and splutters and appears to come to some sort of resolution. The only way to get out of his current situation, his eyes seem to say, is literally to remove himself as far as away as possible from it. As long as he stays within reach of this constant, malodorous fog, he will remain a victim to it. No other solutions exist: there are some smells which no amount of wind, rain or time will ever wash away.

For more Cinema Scent reviews, please click here.


  1. Just reading your post takes me back to the original. Watched Trainspotting 2 recently. It also has the same stench of desperation and wasted lives. I wasn't expecting much from it, but it was surprisingly good. Great post, Dariush! Thanks. R

    1. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment, Richard. You know what, I haven't seen T2 yet... but most people I know have told me that it's much better than it has any right to be... so I think your recommendation is going to give me the final push. I'll have to watch it soon.

    2. It's well worth watching, Dariush. Danny Boyle is such a sharp director! R

  2. I haven't seen the film, but the novel is one of my favourites. The long lost Scottish cousin of Midnight's Children.

    1. Ani, that's a very interesting way of putting it. Thank you.


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