Title: T2 Trainspotting
Rating: 5 Stars
I experienced serious trepidation when I heard that a sequel was coming out to Trainspotting. As a huge fan of both the movie and the book, I was worried that this was just going to be another typical sequel. I was expecting that it would just be a replay of the earlier movie, or some kind of misty-eyed feel-good happy group hug, or worse, that it would be tired and boring.
It was none of those.
It wasn’t as great as the original, but that would have been expecting too much. The original was a unique thunderbolt filled with equal moments of hilarity, horror, shock, jolts of excitement, and utter bleakness.
The screenplay writer, the director, and all of the major players are now twenty years older. The film reflects that. It has a heavier gravity, a more knowing awareness, and the characters are more deeply embedded in a knowing reality. Although it’s still certainly not an optimistic movie, the passage of time has left the film makers with a less desolate vision that suffused the original.
Twenty years after he stole from and abandoned his mates, Renton, in Amsterdam, experiences a serious health condition that causes him to reevaluate his life and he decides to head back to the land and the mates that he still loves.
Now, Spud is a desolate, hopeless drug addict. Simon is a low-life blackmailer and owner of a failing pub. Begbie is in prison and has just been denied parole again.
In short order, Renton saves a suicidal Spud and, trying to make amends, dedicates himself to helping Spud kick his addiction. Simon and Renton viciously fight in Simon’s pub, but afterwards become best mates again and resume their scheming ways. Begbie has escaped from prison, and hearing that Renton is back in Scotland, intends to hunt him down and kill him.
There are several themes running through the film. One is friendship. Although Renton has betrayed all of them, there is no ignoring the deep friendship that all of them share. Renton and Simon in particular fall right back into their old relationship. Even Begbie, wanting Renton dead, remembers with fondness the childhood and the good times that they’ve all shared. In keeping with the bittersweet nature of the film, even the deep friendship among mates is double edged. In one particularly telling scene, Renton and Simon almost effortlessly leave the other emotionally devastated. They each know each other’s most intimate vulnerabilities and ruthlessly exploit it.
Another theme, as I’ve mentioned above, is time. There is (as I can attest from first hand experience) no way that a passage of twenty years does not leave a mark on a person. The film deals frankly with the changes that age inflicts upon yourself and your relationship to others.
Related to the passage of time is nostalgia. Time has moved on for all of the characters, but all of them, especially Renton, pine for those now lost days of happiness and camaraderie. The fact that some of those times were when they were miserably addicted to heroin doesn’t soften the gauze that memory now places over those times.
I enjoyed all of the actors, but I especially enjoyed the actor playing Spud (Ewen Bremner). From the start of the film, where Bremner plays Spud as a broken down, old before his time man with no remaining hope, he does a great job of fleshing out Spud as he evolves through the film. With his facial expressions and fidgety, gangling body, his acting has a physicality that is reminiscent of actors from the silent film era.
If you haven’t seen the original, it’s really important that you do so before you see this film. There are several call-outs to the original. Missing them will lessen the impact of the sequel.
To me, one of the signs of a great movie is not wanting it to end. As it was heading towards its inevitable climax, I found myself wishing to have just a few more scenes with the boys.