In one of the first scenes of T2: Trainspotting, Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) hunches over a record player. Deep wrinkles crease his face. The rail-thin junkie with a shaved head and earrings is now middle-aged. He lifts the needle on his old record player and slowly brings the needle down on the spinning vinyl. The raw, adrenal first chords of Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” burst out.
Twenty years ago, with this song blasting in the background, Renton sprinted through the streets of Edinburgh, took heroin in a run-down flat, and grinned maniacally after being hit by a car in the iconic opening scene of Trainspotting. This time, Renton grimaces, pulls the needle away from the record almost immediately, and the chords die just as abruptly as they began.
Trainspotting was about verve, youth, rebellion: whatever unnamed and fiery feeling overtakes people in their ’20s. T2 is about what happens to that fiery feeling after 20 years of stagnation.
At the end of Trainspotting, Renton stole 16,000 pounds from his friends after a successful drug deal and left Scotland to start a new life. Those friends, Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), Spud (Ewan Bremner), and Begbie (Robert Carlyle), never left the country and never made anything of themselves. Sick Boy runs his aunt’s old bar and makes side money with scams such as a pornographic blackmail scheme. He ingests cocaine, a drug that seems tailor-fit to his persona, as much as he possibly can. Spud never quite kicked his heroin habit and has been nothing but a disappointment to his wife and son. Begbie, the murderous psychopath with a raw, unquenched hatred for Renton, is in prison.
And Renton, after his smiling, triumphant walk into the future at the end of Trainspotting, now works as in “stock management software” in Amsterdam. He has a heart condition, is getting divorced, and will probably lose that job soon. When he returns to visit his hometown, he learns of his mother’s death, meets up with Spud again, and quickly becomes involved in one of Sick Boy’s scams.
The movie moves at a rapid and frenetic pace, replete with energizing electronic tracks scoring the scenes and Danny Boyle’s trademark visual style. The camera flies around, presenting skewed, overhead, distant, and many more wild and stunning shots. A particular scene in a nightclub bathroom is so well done it rivals the infamous ‘Worst Bathroom in Scotland’ scene from the first.
Occasionally, scenes from Trainspotting will splice into the present to serve as silent remembrances. Each time, the effect is dramatic. The transformation from the person in the flashback to the person on screen now is undeniable and becomes deeply affecting as the characters acknowledge their aging and their failures.
At one point, Renton talks about his heart attack, the life-saving device doctors put inside him, and the 30 remaining years of life he’s been promised.
“I’m 46 and I’m f—ked,” he yells.
This sense pervades the movie. Even the rush of the “Choose Life” monologue is twisted and tinged with 20 years of cruel living when it makes its return in T2. Despite the visual flair and pulse-pounding soundtrack, many scenes are strikingly sad. The film is rife with disappointment, nostalgia, and loss, even as it unleashes self-aware criticism on its characters for these same feelings. But throughout this, it never loses the humor and life that made the original so strong. Many tender and sad moments are undercut by dark, brutal, and sometimes grotesque humor.
Much of the film’s emotional impact comes from the bringing together of the original Trainspotting team. The original scriptwriter penned it, the original director directed it, and the original cast hasn’t lost any of its charisma. Bremner as Spud is still hilarious and heartbreaking. McGregor and Miller still make an intensely compelling pair of trouble-seeking best friends. New cast member Anjela Nedyalkova, playing a Belgian sex worker, adds a fresh and interesting take to the lives of the character’s the viewer knows so well, and Robert Carlyle’s return as Begbie drives much of the plot and is an even more menacing and terrifying take on an already insanely violent character. Even Kelly MacDonald, who played the wild and underage Diane in the first movie, returns for a painfully short but fantastic scene.
T2 can stand on its own as an entertaining film, but it is nowhere near as impactful if you haven’t seen Trainspotting. Thematically and visually, the two decades of aging between films are crucial to the overall experience. A viewer who hasn’t seen the original will miss out on abundant references that litter T2. But these references are unobtrusive and add another crucial layer of significance for the viewers who understand them.
Each character’s journey seems like a natural continuation from where they were left at the end of Trainspotting, and by the end, T2 proves that a sequel to a beloved film doesn’t have to be a cash grab and can actually work when done right. These broken characters are imbued with the same contagious lust for life as before, but Boyle never lets you forgets that the clock is ticking and the world is passing them by.
Featured Image By TriStar Pictures