Five Things We Learnt From T2: Trainspotting
Messrs Jonny Lee Miller and Ewan McGregor and in T2: Trainspotting, 2017. Photograph courtesy of Sony Pictures
Overdose on life lessons from the Trainspotting sequel.
After 20 years absence (who knew they would last that long, eh?), the original protagonists of Mr Danny Boyle’s 1996 film Trainspotting will be back in cinemas from this Friday, with the release of the much-anticipated (and slightly oddly named) T2: Trainspotting. The film, also directed by Mr Boyle, catches up with Renton, Sick Boy, Spud and Begbie (played by original cast members Messrs Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller, Ewan Bremner and Robert Carlyle) as they contemplate the onset of middle age, and get into all sorts of grisly scrapes as a result (like we needed to tell you that). At the preview screening last week, we were urged not to share any plot spoilers, so we won’t. They didn’t say anything about general life lessons though, so here goes:
MR EWAN MCGREGOR IS IMMORTAL
In the original Trainspotting, Mr Ewan McGregor’s role as Renton was potentially troublesome. Despite the fact we were watching a desperate junkie in the grips of a heroin addiction, this particular junkie was undeniably cool. We almost wanted to be him. He had a fashionable earring, tied sweaters casually around his waist, and wore grey skinny jeans and Converse – 1990s style down to a skin-tight tee, you could say. The film made a star of Mr McGregor, propelling him from indie unknown to Hollywood shoo-in. Three years later, he was cast in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, and since then, he has appeared in almost 50 films. Despite this mammoth work ethic, there are no physical signs of strain. Mr McGregor’s Renton in T2 has a startlingly fresh face. He also still knows how to dress (his field jacket is particularly envy-inducing). Maybe it’s because he gave up drinking in 2001 (Mr McGregor, not Renton). Or maybe it’s because he slathers himself in moisturiser (something Mr Danny Boyle was jokingly concerned about when considering how slowly his actors were ageing). Whatever his secret to eternal youth – we’re all ears.
PEOPLE RARELY CHANGE
Maybe Begbie’s knocked the drinking on the head and works on the doors of Edinburgh watering holes as a bouncer, cleverly channelling his aggression. Perhaps Spud, newly clean, has a senior role at the local leisure centre (“my pleasure, in your leisure”). However you imagined the Trainspotting character arcs to rise and/or fall over 21 years – optimism might not be an advisable approach. If T2 tells us anything, it is that people rarely shake their formative personality traits and psychological flaws. Both of which take root at childhood (something that T2 also explores). And even if people do set themselves straight, nostalgia and a deep sense of regret is the pervading feeling as our later years approach. If Trainspotting made us shudder at drug abuse, the discomfort in T2 comes from self-reflection.
THE ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK WILL NEVER BE BEATEN
At the preview screening of T2 in London last Thursday, Mr Danny Boyle spoke of three key themes – or should we call them anxieties – concerning a Trainspotting sequel. One of them was the soundtrack. Was it going to be as good? “Well how could it be?” he said, emphatically answering his own question. As if to prove his point, original tracks, such as the bleak realism of “Mile End” by Pulp , played as the theatre slowly filled. Despite The Clash and Queen making an appearance, energetic contributions from Young Fathers and Wolf Alice, and versions of Mr Iggy Pop’s “Lust For Life” and Underworld’s “Born Slippy” (both, of course, on the original soundtrack), it is simply impossible to match one of the best soundtracks in cinema history – and one which encapsulated a decade of rave culture and Britpop so perfectly. (So why not listen again?)
THIS DECADE’S DRUG IS NOSTALGIA
The original Trainspotting captured the spirit of a decade by focusing on human wants and needs, offering a wry counterpoint to the frenzied consumerism of the 1990s by following characters defined by their addictions. And it’s safe to say that the sequel is very much a film of its time, too, though perhaps not for the reason you might expect. In fact what T2 says most about our current culture is that it’s a nostalgic one – let’s not forget that this is just one of many recent revivals of long-dormant franchises, from Mr JJ Abram’s 2015 blockbuster The Force Awakens to TV comebacks including Gilmore Girls, Twin Peaks and (the just-announced revival of early 2000s sitcom) Will & Grace. More than that, T2 is packed with direct homages to the first film, even incorporating footage and entire scenes from the original, while the characters themselves are constantly referring to their own pasts, classic football games, things they used to do or say. Following a year in which the most exciting pop culture phenomenon was 1980s throwback series Stranger Things, it can feel, at times a little like looking in a rose-tinted mirror.
FRANCIS BEGBIE IS ONE OF THE GREATEST VILLAINS EVER
Where switchblade-wielding pub brawler Francis Begbie is a catalysing presence in the original Trainspotting, he becomes an avenging spirit in its sequel – an inevitable and terrifying transformation that provides some of the film’s most nail-biting moments. But the film also delves into his backstory, rounding out this character that’s introduced thusly by Renton in the first film: “Begbie didn’t do drugs, he did people”. What’s so enduring about the Begbie character is that he’s as repellent as he is recognisable. He’s the childhood friend you’ve grown apart from but can’t bear to get rid of. He’s a man who communicates, leads and emotes solely through violence, because that’s the only thing he knows. All in all, he’s an embodiment of male-ness, taken to its logical and terrifying extreme – he’s a sociopath, but he’s not inhuman. He could be anyone. And, as Tommy says in the original Trainspotting, “He’s a mate, so what can you do?” In T2, still in Mr Robert Carlyle’s hands, he’s a chilling pleasure to watch, as is his out-of-touch, ultra-macho wardrobe (white socks, penny loafers, gold chain and argyle sweater).
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