Back in 1996, the monologue recited by Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) at the beginning of Trainspotting (1996) set the tone for the scabrous, searing, drug-fuelled blast of nihilism that followed. It became culturally iconic, with poster versions on the walls of students everywhere. Renton’s rant against the social and cultural mores of the day was like having your eyes and ears opened to the ills that surrounded you, whether you were into drugs or not. It railed against “normal” middle class lifestyles and being part of a faceless crowd, lacking identity or personal pride. It was a cry to the young to avoid the mistakes of the previous generation and not fall into the same traps that had left them ambling through life like sheep. And it wanted you to be angry, to rebel at the possibility of following in your parents’ footsteps. It wanted you to… Choose… Life… because the alternative, and the inevitability of it all, was too terrible to deal with.
“Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players, and electrical tin can openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol and dental insurance. Choose fixed-interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisure wear and matching luggage. Choose a three piece suite on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pishing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked-up brats you have spawned to replace yourself. Choose your future. Choose life . . . But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life: I chose something else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin?”
Fast forward twenty-one years and Renton is still challenging the status quo, and casting stones against the way life is treating both him and his generation. In T2 Trainspotting (2017) the fire is still there, but it’s been dimmed by twenty years of disappointment and regret. It’s a shorter monologue as well, hinting at how weary Renton has become with the struggle to maintain a “normal”, socially acceptable lifestyle. His return to Edinburgh and his disillusionment at falling back into his old lifestyle is highlighted by this outburst, made in front of a bemused Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova). But just as he was twenty years ago, Renton is trapped by addiction – not to heroin, but failure. All he wants is to make something of his life, something better, something worthwhile. But the clue to how successful he’ll be in the future (and it’s likely Renton already knows this), is there in his scathing tirade: “And choose watching history repeat itself.”
“Choose life. Choose Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and hope that someone, somewhere cares. Choose looking up old flames, wishing you’d done it all differently. And choose watching history repeat itself. Choose your future. Choose reality TV, slut shaming, revenge porn. Choose a zero hour contract, a two hour journey to work. And choose the same for your kids, only worse, and smother the pain with an unknown dose of an unknown drug made in somebody’s kitchen. And then… take a deep breath. You’re an addict, so be addicted. Just be addicted to something else. Choose the ones you love. Choose your future. Choose life.”