“You’ve written to The Queen?”
We thrive on nostalgia, don’t we? As we get older, things are never good as they used to be. Chocolate bars were always bigger when we were younger. Everything was so much brighter. It’s something that the film industry exploits insidiously. It sells nostalgia on a platter and we, more often than not, go for all we can eat. Films are rebooted, sequeled, spun off, until the original is a distant, yet comforting memory. Explain to me, for example, why we needed a sequel to Independence Day, twenty years on? That was a tragedy of a film. It added nothing to the original.
I feared the same for ‘T2: Trainspotting.’ How could it measure up to the uniqueness of the original? ‘Trainspotting’ captured a moment in history. Things were about to get better (in a manner of speaking). Twenty years on, why watch a sequel when we can watch the original? However, unlike ‘Independence Day: Resurgence,’ ‘T2: Trainspotting’ is a worthy successor to its original. It’s a very different beast that turns the theme of nostalgia of its head. What if nostalgia is more harmful than good? What if clinging to the past prevents our voyage into the future?
“Welcome to Edinburgh”
Twenty years on, three of the four characters are no further advanced than they were in ‘Trainspotting.’ Sick Boy, Spud and Begbie are still in Edinburgh. Sick Boy runs a blackmail operation with his “girlfriend.” Spud’s heroin addiction have driven away his wife and son. Begbie has been in prison. As we meet him again, he is plotting an escape involving a fellow inmate giving him a serious injury. Renton is seemingly the only success of the four (mainly thanks to his betrayal of the other three). We meet him on a treadmill, running not from police like in the original, but from his younger self. Abruptly, he falls off. We learn later that he had a mini heart attack. Is it this that prompts him to return to Edinburgh? Does a near death experience cause someone to desire “home”?
Renton returns, disrupting the lives of Spud and Sick Boy (now known as Simon). Simon wants a revenge equal to Renton’s betrayal. When Begbie finds out Renton is back, he simply wants to kill him. As for Spud, what does Spud want? He’s happy to see Renton, but also unsure of what to expect of him. Flashbacks not only of ‘Trainspotting,’ but of the four men’s childhood haunt the screen. We see young Renton, Simon and Begbie playing football. Spud is on the sidelines. They are ghosts, images of a past that can never be recaptured by our four antiheroes. Yet, in some senses, they still cling to the past. Why else would Renton come back? He seems to have chosen everything he rallied against in his ‘choose life’ monologue of the original.
Director Danny Boyle doesn’t just use images of the original as fan nods, like so many reboots/sequels/spin offs do. He uses them for a purpose. Take, for example, Renton’s meeting with his father. The same table and chairs adorns the living room. Renton’s father is sat on the left, Renton in the middle. Renton’s shadow falls where his deceased mother used to sit. Brilliant use of light and shadow references the original (and also the present) in a mournful way. Boyle is on top form here, and his direction is one of the many things to admire about ‘T2: Trainspotting.’
“Choose your future”
The soundtrack gives us teases of the original’s memorable songs, or twists them to use them in inventive/ironic ways. However, a main part of the soundtrack was Renton’s voiceover. Here, it’s noticeably missing. While voiceovers are usually anathema to a film, in ‘Trainspotting’ it worked magic, adding an extra layer to the selfishness of Renton. You must have a big ego to narrate a part of your life story! I can’t understand why there’s no voiceover here. It means that Renton struggles for importance among Begbie, Simon and Spud. His ‘choose life’ monologue is this film sounds like a voiceover, but it’s a rant that’s half parody, half serious rant about modern life (the dubbing folk need a good slapping for the audio error!). It would have sounded so much better coming not from Renton’s mouth, but from a voiceover.
It’s the story of Renton and his friends in both films. You could argue that the females are given short shrift here (a cameo from Helly MacDonald lasts a couple of minutes and is pretty unnecessary), but wasn’t that the case in the original? And one of the most powerful characters in ‘T2’ is a female, Simon’s “girlfriend” Veronica. The plot may not be tight or cohesive, but isn’t that the point of it? These middle aged folk had so much to look forward to twenty years ago, but here they are, wandering around, trying to think of get-rich quick schemes. Life isn’t what they expected it to be. The world was Renton’s oyster at the end of ‘Trainspotting.’ In ‘T2,’ the pearls were few and far between. It’s the inherent melancholy in the film that is its real drawing card. There are moment of hilarity, moments of violence, but most of all, the all-pervading sense of sadness hovers over the film. Isn’t nostalgia just as addictive as the narcotics our antiheroes were/are hooked on?
“Nostalgia, that’s why you’re here”
At one point in the film, Renton and Simon reminisce about their past whilst drunk and high. Veronica sits there, unimpressed. In Bulgarian, she says that they live in the past. In her country, the past is something you try to forget. Later on, Renton goes one step further into his past by taking heroin. There’s no subsequent scene of quick edits showing pleasure, however. The scene dwindles to a close. Renton and his friends can never recapture the past, even though they are addicted to it. It’s unbelievably sad at times, especially during a confrontation between Begbie and Renton. More than a few times I had a tear in my eye.
‘T2: Trainspotting’ may not please audiences as the original did. It’s not about infectious enthusiasm for youth and life. Youth has gone, and life has gone with it. The film is just full of energy, but more in the edits than the characters themselves. Their midlife crisis is fuelled by the past. Begbie, Simon and Spud all blame their pathetic lives on Renton’s betrayal. Renton goes back home to face his past. It’s a reflection on how some audiences will approach ‘T2.’ Some will want the edifying highs and thrills that ‘Trainspotting’ delivered in spades. They’ll want to feel young again, when they first saw it at the cinema and it blew their minds. However, that’s not the film we needed. Just watch the original if that’s what you want. If you want a realistic look at the lives of four of the greatest antiheroes in British cinema twenty years on, then ‘T2’ is the film for you. It’s funny, shocking, violent and occasionally quotable. But more than anything, it’s about the dangerous effects of nostalgia.
VERDICT: 8/10. ‘T2: Trainspotting’ is the sequel that we needed, not the one we wanted. It’s a sombre reflection on how the past can disrupt our future when we dwell on it too much. Boyle’s direction elevates the film, which can occasionally falter and dither. However, when it aims for to pull our heart strings, it always hits the bullseye.
What did you think of ”T2: Trainspotting’? Leave your thoughts/comments below!