Choose life. Choose Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and hope that someone, somewhere cares. Choose looking up old flames, wishing you’d done it all differently. And choose watching history repeat itself. Choose your future. Choose reality TV, slut shaming, revenge porn. Choose a zero-hour contract, a two hour journey to work. And choose the same for your kids, only worse, and smother the pain with an unknown dose of an unknown drug made in somebody’s kitchen. And then… take a deep breath. You’re an addict. So be addicted, just be addicted to something else. Choose the ones you love. Choose your future. Choose life.
I saw T2 Trainspotting back in January on general release. I didn’t get around to writing about it at the time so wasn’t going to bother. With the North American release imminent now is as good a time as any. However, there is little point in reviewing it as there are already a plethora of opinions online.
To talk about T2 Trainspotting, first we have to go back to the original film from 1996. Trainspotting was a special film in its day. In 1996 I was a student and immersed in the culture of the day. Times were good, it was pre 9/11, the economy was booming after the recession of the early 90’s, Brit Pop was at its height, The England football team weren’t. At the movies Richard Linklater, Kevin Smith and particularly Quentin Tarantino were spearheading a new independent cinema that spoke to our generation, but they are all American. Trainspotting was different, Trainspotting was British, Trainspotting was ours. Overnight Trainspotting posters started replacing Reservoir Dogs posters on the walls of every student house in town. It was the tinny glimmer that a British film industry could make modern contemporary and exciting films.
The first thing that is worth mentioning is that Trainspotting wasn’t really set in 1996. Based on Irvine Welsh’s novel from three years before it, a date is never actually mentioned but it feels more like the late 80’s early 90’s, a less hopeful time. The Choose Life mantra dates back to the Katharine Hamnett T’shirts of the mid 80’s. Did this squalor make us feel even better about the time we were living in? The new film appears to be set in the modern day, Renton’s new choose life speech tells us how it all went wrong and how we have a less optimistic outlook, making it truly a film for 2017 and the political climate.
Back in 1996, there was a certain buzz about Trainspotting long before release, partly thanks to the cult status of Welsh’s novel but more to do with Danny Boyle’s feature début Shallow Grave from two years before. I still went to see the film with a certain amount of trepidation because of the subject matter. How much fun could a film about heroin addicts be? But Trainspotting isn’t about heroin, it is about life, it is about the choices we make. It doesn’t glorify heroin, but it doesn’t condemn its protagonists, it glorifies life. Along with well drawn characters, this is what lets the film be both compelling and devastatingly funny.
So, as Simon aka Sick Boy asks Mark Renton: what have you been up to, For 20 years? For a start, director Danny Boyle and star Ewan McGregor had a famous falling out over the studio’s insistence at casting the more bankable Leonardo DiCaprio in The Beach. This gap has made a difference. Boyle has spoken about how they tried to make a sequel after ten years based on Welsh’s follow up novel Porno. The twenty year gap has given the story and its characters space to breath. The film starts with Renton running on a treadmill, a perfect juxtaposition to his running from security guards after shoplifting in the opening to the first film. Sick Boy, Spud and Begbie are all doing about what you would expect of them. Spud (Ewen Bremner) is the biggest revelation of the movie, the least used and often comic relief of the first film becomes the most significant and poignant character of T2. I have never seen a sequel that uses so much of the original film. The nods and flashbacks are a great risk, but actually provide many of the films best moments. Along with flashbacks to the main characters as children this not only makes for an interesting film, it also adds extra colour to the original film.
I was lucky enough to catch a screening of the original film a week before seeing the sequel. Anyone planning on seeing T2 should re-watch Trainspotting first to get the most out of both films. In the movie, Sick Boy accuses Renton of being nostalgic, “You’re a tourist in your own youth”. The film is nostalgic, in fact, it is both more nostalgic and melancholic than I expected but no less enjoyable. It isn’t as good as the original but Trainspotting set the bar so high I didn’t expect it to be, most fans won’t be disappointed.