It has now been over 20 years since Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting was released to critical acclaim. Not only did it successfully adapt Irvine Welsh’s prose, but it changed the passaggio of British cinema forever. Providing hard grit and contemporary music to the screen, in place of traditional period dramas. This was 1996, Oasis was playing Knebworth, Britpop and indie trends ruled.
An overly simple summation of the plot is this: the story centres around Renton (played by Ewan McGregor, a disillusioned heroin addict living in an impoverished part of Edinburgh, enthralled to his drug addiction as he is to his delinquent group of friends, Sickboy, Spud and Begbie. After a series of tragic events, Renton eventually kicks the habit and moves to London, Spud lands in jail, and Sickboy and Begbie are concocting a drug deal of a lifetime that brings all four together once again.
“trainspotting encapsulates modern british society and all of its contradictions”
It is far more nuanced. For the grit and accompanying wit of Trainspotting encapsulates modern British society and all of its contradictions. Great material and cultural wealth against destitution; acceptable drugs against non-acceptable drugs; choosing life against choosing sensory pleasure.
‘This was to be my final hit, but let’s be clear about this. There’s final hits and final hits. What kind was this to be?’
These are the words, uttered by Renton, that first entered my mind when Boyle at Telluride announced that a sequel was going ahead, with the albeit less catchy title: T2: Trainspotting. The king of all cult films is back, but what kind sequel was this to be?
“you can see why i initially felt more trepidation than euphoria”
Would it be a poor imitation; a sentimental rehash that is as pathetic and unnecessary as Bridget Jones’s Baby? Or a cultural phenomenon that captures the success of the original, whilst at the same time reinvigorating British filmmaking? You can see why I initially felt more trepidation than euphoria.
Danny Boyle, John Hodge and the original cast of course wouldn’t want to risk besmirching the cult classic by producing a mediocre follow-up. That was the original contention when talks began on a sequel almost ten years ago, which were mainly blocked by McGregor himself, admitting in an interview later: “I didn’t like Porno [the Irvine Welsh novel the sequel is loosely based on] very much. It didn’t move me like Trainspotting had, and I didn’t want to tarnish the reputation of Trainspotting by making a poor sequel”.
I did initially share this view, for no-one wants their favourite film ruined in this way. Tonally speaking, it was always going to be fiendishly difficult to recapture the black-comedy, macabre, and sheer absurdity of the original masterpiece; best displayed in that infamous bar scene when Begbie punctuates the end of his story by throwing his pint glass down towards the bar.
“it smacks of a scorsese picture, with just as much profanity and wildness”
What follows is the freeze frame and Renton’s narration, “Begbie didn’t do drugs either. He just did people. That’s what he got off on. His own sensory addiction”. It cuts to Begbie, “Nobody move! That lassie got glassed, and no cunt leaves till I find out what cunt did it”. It smacks of a Scorsese picture, with just as much profanity and wildness.
When the trailer for the sequel dropped, my trepidation was replaced with elation. Everything changed as it pressed my nostalgia buttons hard; at the same time making overtures to modern culture – whether it be to social media or social issues – in Renton’s new ‘Choose Life’ monologue:
“Choose life. Choose Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and hope that someone, somewhere cares. Choose looking up old flames, wishing you had all done it 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”.
“trainspotting speaks directly to our generation”
It pulls you in, interweaving tongue-in-cheek references to the original, and contemporary flavour. As well as Iggy Pop and Underworld, we are treated to alternative rock artists like Wolf Alice, with their hit ‘Silk’ being featured.
Trainspotting speaks directly to our generation, in spite of the fact we had just been born or perhaps, had not been born at all. The simple reason being that it challenges the notion of one’s ‘self’ – are we choosing life, or living for hallucinatory moments and sensory pleasure? The film was never just about heroin addiction, but the different addictions that drive us all – sex, money, success, relationships – for better or worse.
So Renton, Sickboy, Begbie, Spud and Diane are returning after 20 years off the screen, an ensemble that in my mind is more iconic than the inescapably mind-numbing Marvel universe fare. We don’t relate to those type of heroes; we relate to nihilistic anti-heroes who embody rebellion and absurdity.
Until T2: Trainspotting finally comes out in late January, we’ll have to console ourselves by watching the trailer ad infinitum. I’m ready for one more hit, are you?