You can’t go home again, and Mark Renton hasn’t been home in 20 years. After the climactic drug deal back in 1996, he absconded with his friends’ share of their life changing money and never looked back. Until now.
1996’s Trainspotting dropped like a bomb. Rent Boy’s chewed up sneakers hit the pavement to the driving beat of Iggy Pop’s then-overlooked “Lust For Life,” and audiences were strapped in for a bullet train of a movie that pushed the boundaries of narrative cinema. For 90 minutes, Renton narrated his way through the heroin-soaked adventures of five friends tied together from childhood. Danny Boyle’s second feature moved with the confidence, speed, and ferocity that only devil-may-care youth can muster. Like its subjects, Trainspotting fully believed that you only live once, and if you die young, at least you’re gonna leave a great looking corpse.
T2 Trainspotting is a movie about returning home and reckoning with your past monstrosities. Renton used the money to make a life for himself in Amsterdam with a good job, a good home, and a lovely wife. Rather than ratty sneakers pounding the pavement being chased by police, his day glo sneakers are pounding a treadmill in a yuppy sports gym being chased by his past. Rather than Iggy Pop’s driving drum beat, Renton is running to the updated Prodigy remix of “Lust For Life.” It’s all a little older, a little nostalgic, and a little desperate in that way that old people trying to retain their youth always is. Compared to his friends, Renton is doing quite well. Frances Begby is in jail, Spud remains an on-and-off junky who just lost his job, and Sick Boy is making money through blackmail. Whatever we think, everything is going right for Renton…until it doesn’t and he decides that it’s time to return home.
The whole idea of returning home is filled with nostalgia. On return trips, people gather the old gang back together and return to old haunts in pathetic attempts to recreate their youth and recapture the vitality that seems to have died away in their new adulthood. To move forward, Renton has to return home, come to terms with missing his mother’s funeral, reconcile with Sick Boy’s and Begby’s money, and figure out what he’s doing with his life. He may be getting a new lease on life, but what the hell does he do with all that time on his hands?
T2 isn’t as stylish, driving, or passionate as the original Trainspotting. That seems to be the point. Everything here is a little bit more obvious. A little rougher. A little more desperate and uneasy. Boyle references and even re-adapts scenes from the original Trainspotting. Renton gives an acidic updated Choose Life rant in the middle of the movie that is more about his present place in the world as an adult than his rejection or acceptance of whatever young Renton thought adulthood would be. Though Renton never dives into the most disgusting toilet in Scotland, the toilet is referenced and weaponized by the end of the movie. Danny Boyle finally films an excised chapter from the original novel, Trainspotting at Leith Station.
Even the soundtrack is a little more clingy and needy. The Prodigy remix of “Lust For Life” sits beside a slow adult remix of Underworld’s “Born Slippy” and old hat overplayed songs like Queen’s “Radio Ga Ga” and Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax.” Boyle sneaks in new music by The Young Fathers and Wolf Alice, but it sounds like Daddy trying to be hip and cool rather than the hip and cool youngster Trainspotting was made by. And that’s pretty much the point.
When the friends run off to memorialize Tommy, Boyle recreates the scene where Tommy takes the now-sober crew for a walk in the great outdoors while Renton moans about how it’s shite to be Scottish. During this memorial and recreation, Sick Boy bemoans that this is all an exercise in nostalgia, trying to reconcile the past memories and recapture what it was to be young. He’s right. In the same way that youth live their life through fractured and disparate incidents with little repercussion, the book and original movie Trainspotting were a series of short stories that made up a semblance of life. In the same way that old men relive their life through recalling tales of their errant youth, T2 ties together straightforward narratives resembling a rumination on the idea of aging and memory.
As much as it’s about aging and recapturing youth, T2 is about the cyclical nature of life and fatherhood. Nobody in Trainspotting was ready to be a parent. The one baby in the film dies of SIDS and haunts Renton’s detox hallucinations. T2 is littered with children. Renton, Sick Boy, and Begby all appear as children, Begby and Spud both have kids, Renton wants a kid and is still a child to his father. Just as they lived in the shadows of their parents, the next generation lives in their junky shadow.
By necessity, T2 is not as vital a film as Trainspotting. Though some of Boyle’s shots are brilliant, T2 is not as new, not as fresh, not as exciting, and not as experimental as the original. Just like old men are expanded versions of their younger selves, T2 is a bloated version of the original. Trainspotting comes in at a lean and mean 93 jam packed minutes where every frame of that movie counts. T2 is a much lazier 117 minutes, meandering and wandering around in its own memories, content to regale the audience with tales of the original’s greatness. That’s not to say there aren’t missteps – there’s a whole subplot where Spud starts writing out his stories that would become the novel Trainspotting, but many of the film’s flaws have thematic resonance in the story it is telling.
T2 isn’t Trainspotting for the new generation. T2 is the next stage of Trainspotting for those of us who grew up with the original, had the Choose Life posters on our walls, played the soundtrack as a non-stop score to our young lives, devoured the novel, and injected it into our veins. Now that we’re here…what else is there?