I hated the ’90’s. Well, the first half of it, anyways. All of the over-the-top tacky fashions of the ’80’s gave way to plaid and torn jeans–and all that long, greasy hair. Thanks a lot, Seattle. I did what any traumatized boy would do: I went into hiding to pray for the coming millenium/apocalypse; that is, until at some point in 1996, I saw a trailer for Trainspotting–and, more importantly, I got my first glimpse of Sick Boy. Who was this vision in tussled platinum blonde hair and a sharp looking suit and tie?
I know what you’re thinking. A junky heroin addict? Why not? Everyone needs goals. And at the ripe age of 16, I knew mine. When Sick Boy opened his heel to remove his needle and syringe kit, I knew right then and there that I wanted to be a drug addict. Just so I could be near to him. So I could be him. It wasn’t just the heroin addiction that was so appealing; it the way he looked doing it. It was also Sick Boy’s ability to switch on and off with it. One week, he was lying in filth with a needle in his arm; the next, he was dressed to the nine’s and out in public. He could weave in and out of society and maintain a sordid sense of respectability. What’s most impressive is that Sick Boy switched on and off not for career purposes but to torment Renton. Now that’s power.
I must have gone over that brief monologue a million times. Granted, my suits and ties weren’t nearly as sharp as his but I would make sure everything was ironed and pressed and shined so I could search for my drugs with some degree of confidence. I bleached my hair too. Unfortunately, I never reached Sick Boy and Co.’s levels of debasement (I was more of a club drug queen) but I gave it my all. Instead of needle and syringe, my heel would be equipped to carry pills and powders as well as a razor and straw. And, of course, I’d have my magic snuff bullet in my front breast pocket. I wouldn’t know how to make this happen but I made sure to write all about it in my yearly letter to Santa.
Believe it or not, Sick Boy isn’t just a pretty face in a suit and tie: he’s also a philosopher! In this monologue to Renton, he describes our state of existence as in an inevitable state of decay: “Well, at one time, you’ve got it, and then you lose it, and it’s gone forever. All walks of life.” While Sick Boy specifically focuses on creative talent such as those of of Elvis, George Best, and David Bowie, the message he delivers to poor, naive Renton is simply that we all are damned–to grow old, decay, and die. Not exactly earth shattering news there but if you think a bit more about it, the knowledge that life is fleeting and that we are doomed no matter how hard we try becomes the motivation for those suits and ties and needles. Instead of following grandpapa Walter Pater’s advice to seek salvation through Beauty, Sick Boy sought salvation through filth.
Of course, Sick Boy didn’t fare well in the film. No spoiler alerts, please, but it’s fair to say that he and his band of thieves got their just desserts in the end. Really, though, why settle for anything more? Getting dressed for failure. What a role model.