A deep dive into Trainspotting's iconic toilet scene
“British films always have toilet scenes, don’t they?” director Danny Boyle asks. “Most other cultures don’t bother, but the British always do — we’re obsessed with them, I think.” Certainly it’s hard to fathom another bathroom scene in cinema history as putrid as the one in Boyle’s 1996 Trainspotting. Renton (Ewan McGregor) takes opium suppositories to combat his heroin withdrawal. Unfortunately, the timing is such that before the drug can take effect, Renton’s constipation has suddenly gone in the complete opposite direction. His only option? To avail himself of the “Worst Toilet in Scotland,” which is so filthy and splattered with unidentifiable brown sludge that it makes Renton — and the rest of us — retch as he fishes through his own excrement before literally diving headfirst into the muck looking to salvage the newly passed suppositories.
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Thankfully, in reality the bathroom set was anything but grimy. “It was meticulously clean,” remembers the director, adding that all the fecal-looking elements were, in fact, different kinds of chocolate. “The set smelled really sweet — delicious, really, kind of like a confectionary. You could have licked the chocolate right off the bowl.” He credits McGregor for selling the illusion that Renton flushed himself down the toilet, which was accomplished the way one would on the stage. “We used a half toilet and, when he slips down, there’s a slide on the other side,” Boyle says. “Ewan claims it was his idea to twist around. It was great fun.”
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Renton plunges from the sewage of the stall into a glorious underwater hallucination. Says Boyle, “When you come up against something really ugly, you want to turn it into something beautiful straightaway.”