Trainspotting 2: A heady dose of a drug called nostalgia

Edinburgh, Scotland: ‘The Athens of the North’, a city that is world famous for its heritage and, ever since Trainspotting, its lethal cocktail of drugs, alcohol, poverty and failed dreams. Now revisit this cocktail, in a two hour exhibition of how a film sequel should be done.

At the end of Trainspotting in 1996 we saw Mark ‘Rent Boy’ Renton (Ewan McGregor) walk away from his friends with £12,000, deciding to “Choose Life” and simply add his best friends to the long list of victims in a junkies world. T2 finds Mark in Amsterdam, his life not what he had hoped for and none the better for his betrayal. Within the first five minutes we return to Edinburgh, the film instantly looking at the ‘New Scotland’ that Mark finds, with scepticism. The iconic scene in which Mark, and his friend Spud (Ewen Bremmer), run down the main street of Edinburgh is now replaced by a docile tram ride, Danny Boyle’s T2 quickly establishing a theme for the film; in a world of gentrification where does the past belong?

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Whilst Edinburgh is famed for its beauty, Trainspotting 2 uses it simply as the backdrop to the dark world which our characters inhabit after years of drugs, crime and betrayal.

It becomes addictive, the more nostalgia that is revisited the more you want. Fans of the original will revel seeing snippets from the first film, or other details such as hearing the opening notes to Perfect Day by Lou Reed. People who have lived in Edinburgh and Leith will lose themselves in seeing the city, a gleaming metropole with bright new buildings atop the dark alleys and historic landmarks. And for those who hark back to a time when ‘things were simpler’ and the internet did not rule, the idolisation of the 70s, 80s and 90s will entertain you. But T2’s greatness is not indebted to its ability to convey nostalgia; its critique of the past and ability to demonstrate its weakness, seen in the relationship between Begbie (Robert Carlyle) and his son (Scot Greenan), is far more impressive and startling.

[…] combining two novels from Irvine Welsh, Porno and Trainspotting, is no easy task but John Hodge succeeds in making a coherent, compelling narrative […]

Mark, now not narrating the story as he did in Trainspotting, directly influences the plot as people react to the disturbance caused by his return after 20 years. However, the film’s real strength lies in having four main characters, played by brilliant actors whose careers have been hugely diverse but have not pulled them too far away from their Scottish roots. The ease with which all the actors return to their roles yet after 20 years is testament to their ability and the script writing.

In fact the scriptwriting is a huge achievement; combining two novels from Irvine Welsh, Porno and Trainspotting, is no easy task but John Hodge succeeds in making a coherent, compelling narrative that audiences unfamiliar with the first film or the Scots dialect will be able to follow. The script allows for creative uses of the space and camera in T2 also, the dynamism and energy with which the film flows characterises perfectly the mindset of the characters… erratic, unfocused, and addicted to the chaos of the past.

Read about when one of writers was an extra in Trainspotting 2 

The days of heroin abuse may have taken their toll and in a frank exchange Mark and Simon ‘Sick Boy’ Williamson (Jonny Lee Miller) on Rannoch Moor demonstrate why the past must remain there, yet can’t resist shooting up one more time. Drug addiction is handled very differently in this film, the last showing its destructive capability there and then, but in T2 it is about the wounds it leaves. Nostalgia about the highs of addiction, whether a drug or alcohol or violence or money, is what is crippling the characters now. This film is totally different to Trainspotting, the mood is less of joyous youth and music but of adulthood and how it catches everyone in the end.  The message of  this great film seems to be that, whilst we may call the past our ‘glory days’, they should not be lived again, simply remembered and where necessary memorialised.

By Arran Byers

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