Can you believe it’s been 21 years since Danny Boyle’s “Trainspotting” came out in theaters? If you’re not familiar with the original film, you may have heard of the iconic monologue that Renton (Ewan McGregor) spews out in the intro, “Choose Life,” circulating in pop culture today.
Renton was a heroin addict who tries to get sober amongst his unreliable friends, Simon AKA “Sick Boy” (Jonny Lee Miller), Begbie (Robert Carlyle), Spud (Ewen Bremner), and Tommy (Kevin McKidd). Heroin-infused antics and scheming ensue and the rest is movie history. This was the quintessential ‘90s film that encapsulated the generation and also provided one hell of a great soundtrack, including artists like Iggy Pop, Primal Scream, Leftfield. How do you revisit one of pop culture’s iconic films twenty years later?
Boyle was on the “Nerdist” podcast explaining that when you make a sequel, you have to figure out what the first one was about. He goes on to explain that ultimately “Trainspotting” was about boyhood and the no fucks that you give in your ‘20s. So, “T2 Trainspotting” manifested into a film about manhood.
“T2 Trainspotting” takes place 20 years after the first film, when Renton comes back to Edinburgh to visit his dad after his mom has passed. He bumps into a few friends including Spud and Simon. Begbie is locked up and concocts a plan to escape and get back to his old ways. Renton, at first, seems like he has everything together, a wife and two kids and accounting job with a small business. Simon is running a blackmail strap-on sex scheme of sorts and Spud is still an addict and loses his family.
I won’t spoil how they all end up together or their antics, but Boyle nailed the feel and nostalgia, while also furthering the connections between these characters and the audience. Twenty years is a long time, not only for the actors, but for the audience who fell in love with the film in the ‘90s. From an acting standpoint, getting back into character after a 20-year hiatus seems like it could be a struggle after all the experiences you go through in between. Miller, Carlyle, and Bremner step right back into this world and each other with ease.
Renton admits things are not so great back home and is going to stay, cue the music montage! The shadow of betrayal looms heavy for Simon and Begbie, who were wronged by Renton years ago. That’s not something that is easily forgotten, but makes for some nostalgic scheming and hilarity the only way they know how.
We’re shown flashbacks from the past to a young Renton and Simon. There’s no talking, just home-video like sequences that give us a glimpse of the world they came from and how they ended up where they are. You know from the beginning this isn’t a redemption story about how far these characters have come in their life. They are still battling the same demons they did years ago, but that’s what makes them so relatable. Are you the person you thought you’d be or are you still figuring it out? We see the consequences of their choices years later, their reluctance towards change and the new world of social media and technology that made their lifestyle of scheming harder. Be on the lookout for Renton’s anticipated “Choose Life” speech that is less sarcastic, a touch on the modern world, but also a reflective look into his disappointments and who he wanted to be. McGregor delivers the well written speech brilliantly.
The directing, editing and music are all spot on and live up to their counterpart. There were flashes of the past (yes, there is a toilet full of vomit), lots of trains and an homage to the past film without relying solely on past wins. The film stands by itself and uses new technology to showcase their new reality, but Boyle still manages to capture the look of the old film with familiar locations and yes, lots of running!
The visceral experience of “T2 Trainspotting” does the first film justice, but also innovates upon it, letting it be known that this is a new time and glimpse into these characters. There’s moments of reflection and consequences of past mistakes, but there’s also some progress in these characters. Whether it’s good or bad progress is ambiguous and is sort of left up to the viewer. For me, the ending was just right and I’ll imagine that Renton, Spud, Simon and Begbie all end up where they rightfully belong.
If you were a fan of the first film, you’ll definitely enjoy this one! Tell us what you think in the comments below!
“T2 Trainspotting” is in select cities now!