While in the future, Trump and Brexit will be the two words that best sum up the years 2016 and 2017, I also think the word Nostalgia should be added to the list.
Amidst all the doom and gloom, there’s been an explosion of film and studios dusting off cultural relics of the 90’s with returns of The X-Files, Ab Fab, Independence Day, Cold Feet and later this year Twin Peaks. Of course, such a trend in revisiting the past will get the tongues of sniggering pessimists waggling who will quickly denounce it as cash grabbing and being the biggest threat to pop culture. This usually comes from the same people who lap up the soulless Superhero movies, but that’s an argument for another day.
The latest title that’s boarded the Nostalgia Train is Trainspotting, the 1996 Danny Boyle film whose cool cast, trendy soundtrack and exploration of drugs addiction was so uncompromising thanks to ground-breaking aesthetic visuals, set the mark for future generations of filmmakers. Of course, being only one years old when the film was released, I had no immediate cultural hype to ride on when I first saw it two years ago, more word of mouth recommendation. I loved it, and what struck me was both how well it had aged and that it hadn’t lost any of its shock value. Therefore, the prospect of a big screen sequel, adapted from the Irvine Welsh book Porno, was both inevitable and exciting.
While nostalgia has become a dirty word in modern culture, it’s the main theme of this film. As we catch up with the characters’ twenty years on, there’s constant flashes to the original film, but never in a fan service way. It’s to demonstrate how their past have affected their future. It’s clear that Renton regrets the decision he made at the end of the first film and T2 shows his attempts to make it up to his friends.
Returning as the screenwriter, John Hodge gives each character a new depth that was lacking in the original film, but perhaps works better now thanks to their mature ages. Spud is the biggest surprise of the film, as although he remains the same character who lives in heroin fueled squalor and continues to use his comical outbursts at all the wrong times, having lost his family he now needs to reflect upon his decisions and faces it head on and chooses to no longer be a doormat that anyone can walk all over.
‘Sickboy’ Simon owns a pub and has a side career in extortion with his new accomplice Veronika, and it’s a career that’s seedy and ultimately to gain for himself. He’s no Robin Hood. And as for Francis, he remains the testosterone dripping scoundrel, escaping prison and returning to his old ways and his family, as he tries to convert his son to the family business. He’s not best pleased when he learns of him enrolling in college to be a hotel manager.
The actors reprise these roles with energy and believably, never winking to the audience to please the hardcore fans. It’s as if they are the same characters twenty years on – middle aged men who’s futures don’t seem bright.
Watching the first film just before T2, you can see how much the world has changed, both technologically and culturally. This is seen in the updated Choose Life monologue, we now live in an era as Renton states, ‘where database is our communication.’ Compared to twenty years ago, the world has both grown more complicated and in some ways easier, which the characters acknowledge and reflect upon. At one point, Robert Carlye’s performance as Francis does borderline a caricature. But looking at his son’s situation, he admits to how opportunities like that weren’t around when he was younger and he backs off attempting to get him into the family business with a believable humility.
These are characters damaged by their passed decisions, and accept that nothing can change. Watching them back to back, it’s astonishing how there are no identifiable heroes and villains. Because they’re not films about good triumphing evil. They’re about flawed characters and how their choices, whether personal or environmental, determine their outcome. Ultimately, the endings of the film is neither happy or sad, but depending on viewpoint, kind of appropriate. In many ways, this could be a film that speaks to the generation who originally saw Trainspotting, have ultimately grown up with these character and can reflect on their own lives.
The original film was lauded for its startling visuals and cinematography and T2 is no exception. Boyle’s use of angle and colour, particularly in the nightclub scenes and the drug hallucinations, successfully capture this sordid world and places the film in 2017 and not the 90’s. And much like the original, the use of music elevates certain scenes, especially the use of Frankie Goes to Hollywood when Francis chases Renton at the car park, which is appropriate and intense.
It’s this balance of style and substance that makes T2: Trainspotting a resounding success. While it’s nowhere near as good as the original film and won’t make the same cultural impact, it’s a sequel that’s earned the right to be made as it updates us on the characters’ lives in a way that’s organic and believable, and feels a story pertinent to modern times. Boyle’s direction is on point, Hodge’s script is tight and witty and the performances are effortless, this is one 90’s dust off that’s no cash grab, but more money well spent.