Sezgi Durgun
The Concept of Outsiders and the Cinema
  1. Introduction
  2. Trainspotting
  3. La Haine
  4. Somersault in a Coffin
  5. Conclusion


An outsider is defined as someone who is not  accepted  as a member of a particular social group.  So by definition it requires an established system which keeps the "other" - that is,  who is not like everybody else in the system - out. It can be twofold. Outsider as a concept can be viewed as  a person who  does not choose to be a part of the system.  That may be because of the system's rejection or this person's conscious rejection of the system.  In both cases this outsider having made him singular, adopts an individual attitude, deviates from the way of majority and start to live his or her own life. After this point, the prediction of his or her behaviour becomes impossible  for the system because this person who lives "outside" lives according to its own choices; it may well be a threat to the existing order which is imposed by the system. As we see in many science fiction films the suspension, tension or the fear is mostly based on the threat of something unknowable, unpredictable aliens, organisms whose aim is only to destroy and assimilate our "peaceful" earth. Even if we know it is a fiction, we, as spectators, feel a strange pleasure of seeing the earth saved again so that our lives can also be safe and "normal" as it were.

In the films Trainspotting (1995, Great Britain), La Haine (1995, France), Somersault in a Coffin (1996, Turkey) we see the reversal of this virtual reality in the sense that we, as "normal" people of the system, try to assimilate what we call "not normal" and leave them out of our system which is in fact no different from the attitude of aliens who threaten us.  The only difference is the changing roles between the one who assimilates and the one who is assimilated.  Maybe that is an indispensable reality  that we face throughout history - that the power game all over the world gains its  legality or credibility through exercising power over "the strange"' "uncontrollable" and "unpredictable".
My aim in this paper is to evaluate the concept of the outsider in the frame of these three films above and focus on how this concept is constructed in relation to their main characters.

As Ortega Y Gasset  points out in his article Crowd Phenomenon (1985), for a  member of  a minority,  to make oneself  'singular'  is prior to his or her agreement with the minority, which agrees with one another on not to agree with the majority. Therefore there is a coincidence not to coincide with the majority.  In these films the agreement of the main characters within their minorities is externalised as "being a junkie" in Trainspotting, "hate" in La Haine, and "homelessness" in Somersault in a Coffin. The point they have in common is the attitude which questions the demagogic attitude of the majority towards the people who live in suburbs, in minorities, on the margins, in other words who are OUTSIDERS of the system.


The film begins with the song 'Lust for Life" which  forms an ironic accompaniment to the central character Mark Renton's monologue, (while being followed by the police) about "choosing life", which will from the very start to the end never allow the spectators to feel comfortable about the lives they have chosen. So we enter into the  "junkie life "with the guidance of Renton and see that heroin is the main form of amusement among five junkies who live in one of the poorest parts of the Scottish capital, Edinburgh. These five guys are excluded from society and are thus always ready to commit a crime; not because they are chronic outlaws, but rather drug addicts who need money.  At the same time the forces of law and order are ready to attribute any crime to them because they are young, potential outlaws, outsiders and drug addicts.  They escape to the dark, illusory labyrinth of heroine, careless about the "normal" life outside.

The story is narrated by the voice-over of Mark Renton who on a real "bad trip" and has the real courage to say " I don't choose the life that you are living! " straight to the spectators.  He makes the spectator uncomfortable because he makes us feel like very small wheels in a very big machine - part of  'the system', the status quo.  He is also sympathetic in the way that he simply  introduces us his way of life and invites us to his inner world.  Although he makes us feel like lackeys who contribute to the preservation of the status quo simply by being " BUSY!"  I think , at the same time, he would confess that he is also a servant of heroin; but  he would say "at least it gives me  pleasure that I want, a heaven on earth".

Each of the characters in the film are pathetic, the dregs of society; Sick boy who is a fan of James Bond films, is in the business of selling women, for drugs. Spud is talkative, has no strong personality or courage. Tommy, the most innocent amongst all of them, begins to use drugs after his girlfriend leaves him. In this group Renton is the person who is aware of the different life that the boys live; yet nonetheless he seems the one most willing to go back into 'the system', as we see later when, he starts to work in an estate agency and earn money.  It seems that it is a turning point in his life; a new job, a house;  but in fact it is nothing different from a drug addict 's life.  In Renton's view, the 'ordinary' life of a working person may be worse, because it is deprived of any fantasy and passion, it is "normal and boring". The only difference is the drug of the new order: money.  It is possible that this is what director Danny Boyle intends: although the film ends happily, with Renton 'escaping' from the drug addict's life, such an escape does not appear satisfying or fulfilling. What the film demonstrates is not the metamorphosis of an outsider to an 'insider', but rather that the 'outsider' has remained an outsider by exercising freedom of choice; not by becoming part of 'the system' because he thinks he has to.

La Haine

The film depicts a day in the life of three young men who live in a ghetto in France.  For Vinz, Said and Hubert life means different things but towards the police they have a very common feeling - hate. The idea behind La Haine is the perpetual struggle between young people from the Parisian suburbs - the outsiders - and the police.  If the young people are attacked by the police, they fight back; then the police attack them once again.

Among the three youngsters Vinz is the one who hates the police most.. The source of  his hate is being disqualified, being left out of the system and more than that being exposed regularly to police violence. For him the only way to survive is to hate; by this means he can overcome resentment at being disqualified from society.

He is the kind of person who supports direct and spontaneous reactions against the police.  To do so conforms to his manly image; not to do so would render him liable to a loss of reputation amongst his friends.  He seems to be brave and courageous however, deep inside he is paralysed with fear. For example when he finds a gun (belonging to the police) he boasts that he can use this gun whenever he has to; but he cannot.

The striking point in this black-and-white film is the documentary approach which emphasizes that "this is reality" not fiction; it is something close to us, the reality is waiting there outside the cinema. And through this, it criticises people's complacency; that the rich, wealthy cinemagoer is often separated from the actual goings on in the city. This attitude is also common in Turkey; for example when you look at the presentation of the news in the media about the events in Gazi mahallesi or the distribution of food to the poor people in Diyarbakir all you see is the news presented in a pre-packaged, sanitised story: i.e. the  title of the news resembles "live-aid" in Diyarbakir

Somersault in a Coffin

The story about a well known "car thief" in Rumelihisari, Istanbul,  Mahsun, who has no home, no job, no family and no car of course. In all truth, Mahsun is not a car thief or a dangerous outlaw; what is obvious is that he has a strong desire for cars, maybe because he is homeless and has to protect himself from the cold outside.   Or perhaps Mahsun is just folloýwing his own desires - like Renton in Trainspotting - without worrying about what others say or think about them. This is the only thing they own. Their own world deep inside is the strong motive of their living and resisting difficulties.

Mahsun  is not a rebellious outsider; rather he has a capacity for imaginative projection that separates him from the other characters in the film who try to survive in the real hard life outside. He is like a child, who is at once part of the Istanbul streets, traffic, cars, and city-buses; yet also wrapped up in his own world of toys - in this case stolen cars - which he 'borrows'. He is a kind of person who continually gets into trouble yet escapes serious punishment because of his ingenuous nature;  who brings the dog that he has injured to the animal hospital but escapes without censure.  He is the kind of person who sleeps at night in a boat or ruins of a building  sometimes, who counts the stars and get lost in his imagination. He has no hate towards the police or the system - even when he is beaten up or tortured; he escapes to his own world.


A comparison of the main characters in the three films has shown that they have some similarities in the sense that they react and protest  against the order which leaves them out, they are brave, provocative, and rebellious.  Nonetheless, Mahsun compared occupies a very different position. I don't think that we can call him as an outsider in the same sense as we use it for Renton or Vinz. His character is drawn by taking the  "real" ,"ordinary" street people as a basis for the story, but then creating him as a childlike, fairytale character. My point is that we cannot say that he is an outsider or a marginal, as he bears no hate towards the police, no rebellious anger or rejection.

By the way, It is important to note that a Turkish Music Magazine ROLL (NOV.'97,nr:1)  has reported the suicide of an 18 year old boy who has jumped from 11th floor with his walkman while listening to Alice in Chains, under the title of " A society which is falling from 11th floor" " which is a reference to the opening scene of La Haine.

Returning to  Somersault in a Coffin,  Mabsun has no direct similarities  to  Renton, Vinz concerning his attitude towards the status quo. As in the Ortega Y Gasset article mentioned at the beginning, Mahsun's character is the most "singular" one among the other characters in La Haine and Trainspotting, because his world is not presented  asin opposition to the status quo. Therefore his being an outsider is  not based on  an agreement with the minority or disagreement with the majority. Therefore we can say that he is not an outsider in the same sense that Renton or Vinz is.  The film handles  this situation in the sense that the spectator is taken from the real world to the imaginary world; this is Mahsun's way of resistance.