Released: January 2017
I’ll get it out the way early. T2: Trainspotting is not the same as Trainspotting. It was never going to be. For a start it’s speaking to a different generation now. The same people, definitely, but twenty years of real life later. It’s not going to have the same impact on a generation of cinema-goers, it doesn’t sum up an entire age in 95 minutes and it can’t create new stars seemingly from the Scottish earth itself (Johnny Lee Miller‘s Englishness excepted). It can’t do any of that, simply because we want it to. For something to reverberate with any real resonance, it has to be a bolt from the blue. This film cannot have the same impact, and luckily for us Danny Boyle knows this, and instead gives us an alternative howl in the dark to the original.
The good news is that T2 is great. It is as unflinching a film as Trainspotting. Barely ten minutes in and you’ve had blood, violence and vomit. For these people, life is dirty, and no one is going to come out of it clean. If you do, you haven’t really lived.
Twenty years has passed since they swaggered and shivered through Edinburgh together, and the reunion is not an altogether happy one. Having left at the end of the last film with £8,000 of Sick Boy and Begbie’s money, Renton is welcomed back with less than open arms.
While Spud is not in a good place, back on heroin, unable to see his son, unable to get work, he got his share of the money at the end of the first film and cannot blame Renton for his failures. Having pointed out that giving a heroin addict £4,000 wasn’t ever going to result in a smart investment, Spud is overall pleased that Renton is back. Sick Boy is less so, furious at his stolen opportunity from twenty years ago, blaming everything that’s wrong on that and not his own coke habit or lack of ambition. Begbie has spent the whole time we’ve been away in prison, getting out at the same time Renton returns, and he is ready to deliver some classic Franco violence on the back-stabbing former friend.
While the plot that follows is entertaining, with Shakespearean levels of revenge and deceit, it is the dynamic between the characters and between them and the rest of society that absorbs the viewer.
These are people in a mid-life crisis. Mark Renton has recently had a heart attack, and following an operation was told the devastating news that he’s good as new for the next 30 years. “What am I meant to do with that?”, he exclaims. “3 or 4 years I could fill, but 30?”. And that’s the crux of it all. His life in Amsterdam was good. 15 years of marriage, an accounting course, the gym.He’s filled his time and distracted himself from the void in his life, but it transpires that he’s getting divorced, being made redundant and losing his house. He has nothing left and the only habit that calls to him now his replacements have failed is Edinburgh, old friends and an adrenaline-rush of bad decisions, hasty departures and drugs.
You can see the characters as stuck between the old geezers in the pub Sick Boy runs, barely moving, waiting for their bodies to catch up with the fact that they died years ago and the young people glimpsed in posh restaurants and trendy bars, bland and anodyne and, to someone like Renton, functionally dead. Our characters are people without a place to be, but who keep going despite it. They are the green in the many shots of decrepit Edinburgh corners, fighting it’s way through the concrete of the ordinary lives they are trying so hard to avoid.
Of course, all of that is to romanticise them too much. Is there any point fighting your way through if all you are is a bramble and not a rose bush? And as much as they try to avoid a routine existence, that’s what they have. It could be argued that there are a few too many nods too the first film in this, but surely that’s the point. These aren’t put there to make us remember the first and enjoy our warm nostalgia for it, to “holiday in our own past” as Sick Boy puts it, rather, they are there because junkies have their habits- of course they’ll be another late night chase through the streets, running for their lives, of course there’s another shitty toilet in another club- that’s what their life consists of. These aren’t unusual things to happen, and by cinematically framing them so we remember the other, Boyle is reminding us it’s partially the routine that Renton is craving when he returns home. It’s just a different routine to the one he lambasts in his redone “Choose life” speech, which is now more a cynical outburst to impress a girl, surprise surprise, far too young for him.
The film is stylishly shot, with fresh paint over some Danny Boyle hallmarks to ensure it’s recognisable but not 20 years stale. The rebirth of Spud as a new and changed man is rather graphically depicted, and some lingering shadows from the past quite literally haunt a few scenes.
Overall this is a huge film, in spirit and in effect. You’ll walk out talking about, and you’ll find scenes playing over your real-life versions of them. It’s a raw throated scream from a generation that have had their existence wiped away without a whimper. Others like this died young, or grew up and changed into what they hated. This is film to try and call them back, even though it’s probably a terrible idea.