It’s done. 2017 already has the undisputed piece of dialogue of the year, and perhaps the decade. Renton (Ewan McGregor) and Simon (Jonny Lee Miller) are in a heated exchange. They’re having an argument about another visit to remember Tommy (Kevin McKidd - a departed friend who died of HIV during their ‘glory’ days). Renton says that it’s “not nostalgia, it’s a memorial.” Simon retorts “you’re a tourist in your own youth.” Welcome to “T2 Trainspotting,” an essential sequel to the film that encapsulated Britain in the 1990s “Trainspotting.”
The first time that I’d ever heard of a possible sequel to “Trainspotting” was in an interview with Australian cult radio show ‘Get This’ - hosted by Tony Martin and Ed Kavalee. Director Danny Boyle joked that although author Irvine Welsh had written a sequel (“Porno”) and that he’d kept it waiting for Boyle in perpetuity, the clean living Hollywood anti-ageing lifestyle of his cast, (unlike their hard living characters) meant that he’s had to wait a lot longer before his actor’s looked the age they were being portrayed as in the novel. This film has been cellared for the precisely perfect time.
A little more than twenty years after McGregor’s Renton chose life instead of the masturbatory spiral into self-destruction, the whole band is back together. Director Boyle, screenwriter John Hodge and all the skag boys Renton, Simon (Jonny Lee Miller), Begbie (Robert Carlyle) and Spud (Ewen Bremner) are back to tangle with their history.
Hodge’s script could not be more relevant. Hodge translates Welsh, from both novels as source material with such a colourful desperation. The original “Trainspotting” haunts the characters and the nihilistic life isn’t easily discarded. Choosing life requires an escape; if you occupy the same spaces, that internal you being repressed will find a way to rear its head and interrupt who you’re trying to become. Hodge synthesises Welsh’s source material with devastating insight. There are lines and scenes that hit you in the chest like a sledgehammer. The updated “choose life” speech is obviously a highlight; but it’s actually some of the quieter confessional scenes between Renton and Simon as they attempt to patch their severed friendship, that do the damage. Renton complains to Simon that in the wake of some recent lifesaving heart surgery that, “they gave me thirty years; they didn’t tell me what to do with them.”
Boyle makes mood and skin crawling, body shuddering feelings and projects them into spaces. That projection and filtration blurs the line between reality and visions of the installations in the folds of your mind. Roger Ebert used the phrase “superlative technical quality” and I think that’s the most apt description of Boyle’s proficiency behind the lens. The setting is a reflection of the key quartet. The settings they occupy have seen their glory days where in expiration in their youth. Simon’s pub the lone building stands in an area where all evidence of the former industrial glory are in skip bins; Spud’s tenement stands beside the rubble mounds of its fellow concrete apostles; Renton’s family terrace, the grey concrete looks like it could crumble away in any second. He’s as comfortable using his camera as a cattle prod, as he is a swaddle for his characters. Strap in, you’re in a ride that’s so percussive that in the moments that it releases its hold on you, you get to acknowledge that you’ve been bouncing along.
Music is so completely essential in “T2” that it’s hard to remember where one vibrant song ends and another begins. Artists like Iggy Pop, Young Fathers, Wolf Alice, Run DMC, Blondie, Queen, Underworld score this free fall into the characters. Some of the songs are passengers from the original film, and like the drugs that these guys are trying to forget, they create a euphoria that comes crashing into the rocks of reality. Music triggers those memories of being high. You “chase the dragon” trying to replicate the high; music will transport you to a place where you can still feel the breeze from the vast scaly wings. The power of the music to transport the characters back to those moments is so powerful that Renton begins the ceremony of playing a vinyl in his childhood room and one second blasting from the hifi forces him to pull the needle away.
McGregor is back as Renton, and while his eyes shine luminescent under that ruddy and filthy exterior in the original “Trainspotting,” the Renton of “T2” has the brightness turned down. He’s been beaten down and enslaved by the mediocrity of day to day civilian existence. He’s back to beg forgiveness for his betrayal and to resurrect his connection with his best friends and find a way for them to restore one and other by association. While he’s doing his best to keep it together, man it is wild and exhilarating to see him give those glimpses of his youthful self. It’s a casual visit, a cosplay, and he’s certain of it.
Miller’s Simon continues to be the small time con man inflating his ego and image with cocaine and trying to stay off the radar of bigger criminal fish. Anjela Nedyalkova: Veronika is his ‘girlfriend’ and business partner in a scam to take willing participants of being ridden with a black strap on, spy on them and bribe them with a potential release of the footage. Veronika has inherited the role of Diane but instead of trying to drag Renton out of the life, she is a sponge to it.
Kellie MacDonald is back briefly as Diane, the corrupted youth of “Trainspotting.” She assists Renton in getting Simon out of a slight case of extortion. There’s such an intense and regretful longing in their brief but memorable exchanges.
Carlyle’s Begbie is a human napalm container. In the first film, Begbie starts a fight in a bar and the unfolding violence would feel like an honest ‘scrap.’ By the end of the last film, his appetite for destruction had peaked. So from minute one in “T2” you’re waiting for him to explode. He begins the film in a high security prison, being refused bail and mauling his lawyer for failing to get him out. He resorts to allowing a friend to shank him in the side to get to hospital and make his move to escape. Begbie, he stalks the civilised world like a character from a crime film shooting on another set. This unstoppable locomotive of a character is on a collision course with Renton.
Ewen Bremner’s Spud was always a passenger (in different states of willingness and unwillingness) to the events of the first film. Bremner’s Spud caught in the clutches of addiction and the peaceful dullard hasn’t acquired the ability to exist consistently on the same plane as regular folk. His misspent youth, has accumulated an insurmountable debt as a man. Bremner is given the opportunity to give new dimension to Spud. He’s the witness of the boys’ escapades and in the process of building their story as a catharsis. Spud’s apartment transforms into vortex of memory. Spud inherits the role of bard and bears witness to maddening desperation to feel that prime of life once again.
The “fuck you” of your teens and twenties is finite. “T2 Trainspotting” tackles the malaise of your 30s and beyond. “T2 Trainspotting” is poetic and mathematic; this sequel’s impact is exponential.
Blake Howard is a writer, a podcaster, the editor-in-chief & co-founder of Australian film blog Graffiti With Punctuation. Beginning his criticism APPRENTICESHIP as co-host of That Movie Show 2UE, Blake is now a member of the prestigious Online Film Critic Society, sways the Tomato Meter with Rotten Tomatoes approved reviews. See his articulated words and shrieks (mostly) here at Graffitiwithpunctuation.com and with DarkHorizons.com & 2SER Sydney weekly on Gaggle of Geeks.