***WARNING – SPOILERS***
In a determined effort to maximise the thrill of my cinema experience I’d deliberately stayed away from any media coverage of T2 Trainspotting, other than reading an interview with Robert Carlyle in which he made it clear that the actors were nervous when it finally came to making the sequel. The cast knew exactly what this film meant to people, themselves included; they had to get it right.
A really important point to note, I think, is that to really get T2 Trainspotting you need to have seen the first one. I suppose if you hadn’t seen the original, you could still follow the story to an extent but it would lack any kind of depth and would be just another film you’d whiled away a few hours by watching.
As the next step on from that, to fully indulge in the gritty sentimentality offered up by T2 Trainspotting you need to have some kind of relationship with the original, a relationship most likely formed by having seen the original at some defining point in your life and thereby having the film forever bookmarked alongside that particular point in your life story. [Click link below to read more....]
I saw the original Trainspotting with three friends from school. I drove us to the cinema in my first car; it was the longest journey I’d been on since passing my driving test a few weeks before. We were all just about turning eighteen, on the verge of finally leaving school and stepping over the threshold into whatever it was that would lie beyond. What sort of life would we choose?
T2 Trainspotting starts with a deliberate jolt into present day Edinburgh, where we see Mark Renton returning home for the first time in twenty years and taking a trip on the new, shiny, tourist friendly Edinburgh tram line. Twenty years seems a long time between drinks when we find out that Mark’s only been over in Amsterdam, but as you may recall when we last saw Mark he was doing a runner from a London hotel room having stolen a sports bag full of cash from the arms of violent psychopath Francis Begbie. Remember that sports bag flung over Mark’s shoulder, the bag that contained sixteen thousand quid, the proceeds of a heroin deal, which was supposed to be shared equally among four friends? Mark still carries a sports bag over his shoulder in just the same way, we see him carrying it almost everywhere, as if to serve as a subliminal reminder that no matter where we go the past is something we’re always going to be carrying with us.
As was kind of always the way, Mark is still the middle-of-the-road one out of the group of friends. He’s got his moral flaws but he was never evil like Begbie, never truly fucked up like Sick Boy and never truly unable to help himself like Spud. If anyone was going to be looking pretty alright after twenty years it was always going to be Mark. Sure, he’s getting divorced and feeling a bit sorry for himself but basically he’s doing alright.
Mark finds his old friends all in a pretty bad way, all doing pretty bad things to themselves or to others. None of them are pleased to see him and you almost wonder if Mark would have been a bit self-righteous in expecting anything less.
Visiting people and places from the past comes with a strange mixture of two overlapping strands of life expectations. There’s the one where our younger selves were encouraged to go forth and make our mark on the world, to “do something with our lives”; no-one ever used to tell us what exactly, but I suppose the general premise was to do something as opposed to, for example, doing drugs. No sooner have you found something do to however, there’s the expectation of not forgetting where you came from – family, old friends, home town, home country even – you can’t just up and leave them and be having too much of a good life somewhere else, it just doesn’t seem right. Moreover, you don't want to forget that place you once called home; you want to look back over your shoulder every now and then.
So then you find yourself sitting back in your parent’s kitchen drinking tea, you find yourself walking down streets that look the same but different; the old pub has shut down, new houses have sprung up. You know these places like the back of your hand but something inside you tells you that you don’t know if you fit in here anymore. It’s like the past is a dolls house and you are a different kind of doll that doesn’t bend and sit in the same way; you can be squeezed in alongside the other dolls but it’s far from a perfect fit and everyone knows it.
You meet up with old friends, get drunk and reminisce about the good times then inevitably stumble into the dark territory of the not so good times. Mark and Sick Boy, who prefers these days to be known as Simon, have a riotous night in Simon’s apartment, getting wasted and analysing golden moments in football history, booze and coke ensuring the rose coloured glasses stay firmly in place. In a later scene, they revisit a remote hillside somewhere far outside of the city to pay tribute to their ill-fated friend Jamie, who did not survive the first film. Simon takes a twisted pleasure in bringing up the fact that it was Mark who’d bought Jamie his first hit of heroin. Mark immediately twists the knife right back by wondering what Simon’s infant daughter might have been doing now as a grown woman, had she not stopped breathing one day in her cot in the corner of a junkie hell house.
The original Trainspotting felt very fast paced whereas T2 Trainspotting feels like more of a slow burn, interspersed with sudden shocking moments. I can’t help wondering if this is an accurate reflection of the pace of life – when you’re young, life is a rollercoaster of new experiences but as you get older, life is a constant journey through things that you’ve seen before and it takes something either immensely good or immensely bad to shock you out of that routine. When you first saw Trainspotting, it might have been one of the first truly gritty, dark humoured, adult themed films that you’d ever watched; a film about people, situations and concepts you’d never considered before. In the twenty years since then, you’ve seen countless films about nasty stuff. You may, or may not, have seen nasty stuff in real life too. I don’t know if T2 Trainspotting is a slower paced film than the original, or if that’s just my perception twenty years on.
T2 Trainspotting doesn’t so much deliver a whiff of the sweet smoke of nostalgia but instead sends us on a full blown trip back into the highs and lows of the Trainspotting world. At the very start of the original film we saw Mark almost getting hit by a car near the Calton Street Bridge in Edinburgh. T2 Trainspotting inevitably takes us back to this location, complete with predictable but still perfectly jolting flashbacks. We even meet a familiar young lady who has grown up to be a lawyer – of course if you’ve never seen the original then the lawyer scene, along with many other scenes, simply won’t have the same value in your eyes.
T2 Trainspotting ends with all its loose ends tied up and with a sense of optimism, at least for all those characters who might deserve it, while leaving no illusions of an easy future. The story made me both happy and sad in equal and ever changing measures, while the film was one of those rare and wonderful sequels that was everything fans hoped it could be.
Nicki Ranger is a freelance writer currently based in Perth, Western Australia.
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