“You’re a tourist in your own youth.”
L.P Hartley’s ‘The Go-Between’ as one of the greatest opening lines in literature – “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” It’s a sentiment that is returned to time and time again within ‘T2 Trainspotting’. Making a sequel after twenty years would be difficult. Making a sequel to one of the most iconic films of a generation should have been impossible. It wasn’t. With ‘T2 Trainspotting’ Boyle & Co find the perfect balance between references to the original whilst furthering on the character arcs. Yes, there’s a lot of fan service – there needed to be. The result is more than that though.
In 1993 with ‘Trainspotting’ Irvine Welsh produced a text that epitomised a lost generation. Just as punk had been an outlet and means of expression in early 70’s New York and Mid-70’s Britain (then grunge in 90’s US) Welsh’s breakthrough text became the voice of a generation. It was the same voice as punk but a little wiser, more articulate and pretty damn eloquent. Then came the film, that soundtrack and true iconic status was obtained.
‘T2 Trainspotting’ comes along not just as the sequel we didn’t realise we wanted, but the film we needed. It has a voice that is just as clear, a lot more cynical and seems to be experiencing a midlife crisis of sorts. What did we expect? That a lost generation would simply find its way, adhere to social convention and reach mid-40’s with the perfect job/life/wife? That social outsiders, through achievement and a good work ethic, can slot back in line with mainstream society?
This is an ideology perfectly explored within the film. The tone is built and retained with an incredible level of skill. There’s a lot of bleakness, some tension and a lot of humour with nostalgia woven in. This is what separates the film from other sequels and stops it from seeming like a cash-in. The nostalgia created isn’t always fun and carefree. More often than not it’s the kind of gut-wrenching nostalgia that’s as painful as being nutted by Begbie.
The film begins with Renton (McGregor) returning to Edinburgh 20 years after the events of the first film when he (spoiler alert) betrayed the most important people in his life. He appears to have his life sorted, in bitter contrast to his old compatriots who are as disparate, from themselves and each other, as ever. Renton, like Leo in ‘The Go-Between’ is all too aware of the consequences of his actions. Also like Leo, he seems to crave the past and the semblance of a life he had then. As he tells old best friend Sick Boy (Lee Miller) upon their reunion he could cope with having just three years left, what exactly is he meant to do with thirty?
Renton’s reunion with both Sick Boy and Spud (Bremner) is littered with allusions to their shared history but never to an extent that overwhelms or preoccupies the viewer. Instead it acts as something of an exorcism of misplaced nostalgia and disappointments. The three men may be back, they may be older but they’re sadder and they definitely aren’t wiser. Each performance is remarkably powerful for different reasons, but it is surely Bremner who epitomises their turmoil. His face alone, each micro expression alone, both reveals and induces immense emotion.
The plot is tight but not intrusive as it explores the latest chapter of the characters. They’re not knocked down nor are they really getting back up again; instead they are built upon and further developed. Like the viewer they’ve not changed completely. They’ve not found the meaning of life, like us they remain as bewildered by it as ever.
‘T2 Trainspotting’ opened in UK cinemas on 27th Jan.
Year: 2017 Run time:117 minutes Dir: Danny Boyle
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Kelly Macdonald, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Shirley Henderson, Ewen Bremner.