Fine, I know, it’s practically impossible to pick a favourite scene from Trainspotting. Watch it again and there’s not a wasted second in its lean 90 minute runtime. Proof that movies were indeed better in our day, Boyle’s 90s tour-de-force is a relentless rollercoaster of best bits.
The retch-filled sequence as Ewan McGregor’s skinny jeaned Renton becomes a skin-headed nymph swimming through clear blue waters of the worst toilet in Scotland to collect his suppositories. The brutal nightmares of cold turkey as a baby scuttles across the ceiling to Underworld’s Dark and Long while Dale Winton presents the ultimate HIV-themed game show. And let’s not forget that perfect iconic still of Robert Carlyle’s Begbie, frozen in time with a glass tumbling over his shoulder, the epitome of the sheer terror of this particular brand of Scottish psycho - ”but he’s a mate, what kin ye do?”.
But I say it’s practically impossible above because I can pick a favourite scene. It’s pivotal. It sends our favourite motley crew of smart talking pop culture savvy junkies running back to heroin. They go scurrying back to the needle like rats. And all they have to do is go outside.
Deciding that they all need some fresh air, the soon to be addict Tommy takes the team on a trip north. They get off a train in the literal middle of nowhere and gaze at a snow capped mountain. Replicated almost exactly in promo imagery for the new T2 (opens in new tab), they are the image of modern Scotland. Their faces say it all. This is home. Now what the hell do we do?
Trainspotting is defined by its setting. It’s author Irvine Welsh’s unashamed anti-Visit Scotland advert. See the crew’s first day of the Edinburgh festival for exactly how many fucks they give about their city of culture and arts. Spoiler: it’s zero. And it’s no less potent a message now. Like Ken Loach’s grim teenage drama Sweet Sixteen set in Greenock and surrounded by the majestic scenery of the west coast, Trainspotting is the painful reality of a generation. That the scenery might be alright but life still sucks. You might catch a glimpse of Edinburgh castle but it’s only ever in the background as Renton pounds the pavement in an attempt to get away from the security guards when a bout of theft goes awry. There’s not a tartan scarf in sight. In stark contrast, the introduction of London is a highlight reel of tourist spots before effortlessly proving with Rents’ squalid bedsit that it’s just as filthy underneath.
Trainspotting’s home isn’t the Scotland of Instagram, all serene lochs, triumphant stags, and mystical castles shrouded in fog. It’s real Scotland. It’s raining. It’s the cold, biting chill of getting off a train on a one way track with a plastic bag full of cans of cider and oh-so-crushing reality. It’s everything that the movie represents in one grey-skied sequence. And this is all before Renton’s political diatribe, cementing the sheer pointlessness of their situation. “Doesn’t it make you proud to be Scottish?” Tommy enthuses gallantly, taking the fresh air into his soon to be dead lungs.
“It’s shite being Scottish,” shouts Rents, swigging a bottle of cheap vodka. “We’re the lowest of the low. The scum of the fucking Earth! The most wretched, miserable, servile, pathetic trash that was ever shat into civilisation. Some hate the English, I don’t. They’re just wankers. We, on the other hand, are 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 fucking difference!” Regardless of your thoughts on Scottish nationalism, there’s no denying the brutal poetry of the moment.
And with that, Rent, Sick Boy, Spud, and Tommy leave. They turn around after taking only a few steps towards the mountain, decide to get back on drugs as fast as possible, and head back to the train to set in motion the events that leads to the death of one of the group. Like Trainspotting itself, it’s bleak, beautiful and hilarious, and, in turn, the best scene in the movie.
The Best Bit focuses on the special moments, scenes, and elements of movies and TV that make them worth watching. It arrives every Wednesday at 0900 PST / 1700 GMT. Follow @gamesradar on Twitter for updates.