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Review – ‘T2: Trainspotting’ Carefully Brings the Past Into the Present

By  · Published on February 2nd, 2017

‘T2: Trainspotting’ Carefully Brings the Past Into the Present

The follow-up to the 1996 film uses the best of its predecessor in order to convey its characters’ sense of helplessness about the present.

Danny Boyle’s second feature film turned twenty early last year, with Boyle returning to direct and scriptwriter John Hodge back to adapt Irvine Welsh’s novels of which the films are based off. With the drug-addicted groups return, Boyle and Hodge’s portrayal of working class Edinburgh and the now infamous black, white and orange posters still elicit the urgency the film provoked in 1996. Trainspotting’s opening scene immediately placed audiences in the center of Renton’s (Ewan McGregor) hazy, heroin-filled world. From the opening tracking shot of Renton’s running feet to the satire of his “Choose Life” monologue, Trainspotting’s message was clear: there’s no time for the audience to feel alienated – audiences were experiencing the film with its characters rather than observing them from the outside. While Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” plays in the background of Trainspotting’s opening, Boyle’s honest depiction of life was tied intricately to the film’s characters, dialogue and music.

T2: Trainspotting, to be shown in theaters in a wide release on Feburary 10, opens less dramatically. In reference to the original’s opening, T2’s opener sees Renton running on a treadmill, supposedly having succumbed to “life” by choosing to artificial run. For Renton and his now-distant company, Spud (Ewen Bremmer) and Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), life will always be lived through an addiction to something, and, as Renton says in T2, this can be an addiction to anything. His own addiction is, he says, moving away from drugs. Like Trainspotting, T2 offers equal promise of closure. Its plot, like the lives of its characters is circular, the film opening continuing on from Trainspotting’s circular discourse. Renton will always be stuck with the prospect of drugs looming over him. The film reunites Renton with Spud and Sick Boy, while the dramatic irony of Begbie’s (Robert Carlyle) escape looms in the background until they meet in a toilet.

This toilet scene is a reference to the famous scene in the original, and references continue throughout. When on Princes Street, a now-iconic Edinburgh shopping street thanks to Trainspotting, Spud reimagines Renton’s iconic opening. Audiences will also be reminded of Begbie’s glass smashing incident, and Renton and Sick Boy share a flashback to the freedom they felt when taking heroin. Whilst the editing for these flashbacks is well-executed, they show how Boyle’s film relies heavily on nostalgia and memory. The characters’ motivations are spurred by their memory of the past and their desire to conclude their circular narrative. This reliance on what Trainspotting was leaves T2 feeling as if it is an epilogue rather than a sequel.

T2’s soundtrack, however, that features the likes of alt-rock band Wolf Alice and Edinburgh-based hip hop group Young Fathers, is able to find the originality and urgency from Trainspotting is found. The lyrics of Wolf Alice’s “Silk” speak to mental health issues, and Young Fathers’ “Get Up” and “Rain or Shine” both ask what the right thing to do is, often repeating lyrics as if trying to convince themselves they’re “alright.” Welsh producer High Contrast and English rock band Fat White Family both explore similar messages to Young Fathers, with their music often mirroring Boyle’s energizing direction onscreen. By mixing these newer bands with music from Trainspotting’s era and beyond, T2’s soundtrack uses artists like Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Queen, and Run D.M.C. along with their contemporaries in order to portray the sense of timelessness its characters have faced. It’s this merging of the new and the old that shows how each character is caught in an in-between stage of life, neither able to move forward because of the past nor able to go back to the past (in a “time machine” as Sick Boy would argue) thanks to the horrors that haunt it. Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” is remixed by The Prodigy, combining Trainspotting and T2 in a way that puts the focus on the most memorable scenes of the former yet stills leaves room for the latter to have its own sense of purpose.

Throughout T2 Boyle is aware of the original film’s history, with the flashbacks working to present a reason for this return to the Trainspotting world. As Robbie Collin writes for the Telegraph, this reason is “first to work out who we are, and second to understand why we aren’t where we’d expected to be.” The funniest moments of T2 happen when Boyle takes audiences away from the nostalgia of its history while the most poignant and evocative moments happen while the director brings audiences back to Trainspotting. For Empire, Ian Freer writes that T2 uses “the second film to investigate the first,” connoting the film’s ability to portray the characters’ middle-aged mid-life crises as well as the slight (inevitable) disappointment that the film does not do what Boyle’s original did. While T2 places its characters in new settings but does not explore them due to the preoccupation with the past, Trainspotting engaged with its own era with clear eyes and a racing heart.” Although the epilogue style narrative works for what T2 is, a film about where working class drug-addicted men can go, it feels as if an opportunity to speak to the working class youth of today, much like Trainspotting did in 1996, has been missed.

T2’s ending (spoilers warning) places Renton back in his childhood bedroom, with the ubiquitous trains that cover his wallpaper purposefully returning audiences back to the surreal detox montage from its predecessor. This time, instead of breaking out in a sweat due to a fever or taking drugs, Renton begins dancing – another form of freedom. As he dances, the camera begins to retreat, creating a reverse Dolly Zoom effect. The walls go on and on, and the camera pulls away. As the credits are about to roll, the speed heightens and the bedroom becomes a tunnel, and the camera becomes its train. Renton is at the center, the linear narrative that was not present in the original is still left untouched.

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Freelance writer based in the UK.