20 years later addiction is replaced by middle-aged blues.
This article contains spoilers for Trainspotting (Dir. Danny Boyle) 1996
It’s been 20 years since Ewan McGregor burst onto cinema screens ‘choosing life’ while sprinting away from police to Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life. Danny Boyle’s 1996, movie Trainspotting about heroin addicts growing up on the mean streets of Edinburgh, was made on a minuscule budget of £1.5 million and went on to gross $72 million at the box office.
The blackest of black comedies the movie may be known for its cracking dialogue (once you can get past the Scottish accents) and killer soundtrack, but if anyone thinks the film glamourises drug taking misses the point.
To prepare for the sequel I rewatched the original for the first time in years. My main memory from Trainspotting, (besides the opening scene) was the horrifying death of a baby who starved to death while her mother was getting high. That one scene was more effective in keeping me away from drugs than any anti-drug lecture I ever attended at school.
So 20 years after Renton (McGregor) walked out on his mates with $16,000 they’re back.
Boyle starts the movie with dark irony as we again see Renton running, but this time he is not running from anyone, but is now on a treadmill in an Amsterdam gym. The high energy of Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life has been replaced by a subdued instrumental version of Lou Reed’s Perfect Day (the song that plays when Renton overdoses in the original film). Renton may have now chosen life but the sight of his conformity in a gym is a depressing one. Later when he returns home he puts on a vinyl recording of Lust for Life and quickly turns it off after the opening riff.
Drug free and looking physically fit yes, but this accounts manager for a small business is no longer running away, he is running on the spot. He is however not the only one unsatisfied with their life.
Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) is the same old Sick Boy (or Simon as he is now known), just older and now with a habit for cocaine over heroin. Now landlord of a rundown pub, he supplements his meagre earnings with various illegal activities.
Begbie (Robert Carlyle) is still…well Begbie. He has spent the last 20 years in prison. After having his latest parole application turned down, he pulls a Chopper (only having a fellow prisoner stab him in the chest not the ears). Once in hospital Begbie makes his escape and quickly returns hell bent on revenge.
Saddest of all is Spud (Ewen Bremner). Now the father of a son who wants nothing to do with him, he has never been able to fully shake his addiction. Suicidal, when he meets Renton he is angry at him for leaving him the ‘gift’ of $4000.
I’m a junkie, how did you think I would spend the money.
After a brilliantly filmed pub brawl Sick Boy asks for Renton’s help to finance his plan to turn the pub into an upscale massage parlour. After some convincing the two scam a group of strict Protestants in a scene where they begin to feel like their young selves again.
Sadly for everyone the high can’t last as the past comes back to haunt everyone. That is Trainspotting 2’s problem as a number of scenes from the previous film are shown in full. Sick Boy’s partner tells Renton that they both live too much in the past, Sick Boy tells Renton that he is a tourist in his own past and while the characters are all looking back wistfully to when they are younger and edgier it feels like we are dragged along for the replay. A sequel completely in awed of its original.
Now I realise that some of the audience for this film would not have seen the original but replaying scenes only drags down this film and like Renton on the treadmill things are unable to move forward, which is a shame because Boyle still gets a lot right.
The dialogue still sparkles, the movie is still funny, Begbie is still one of cinema’s best psychos, the acting brilliant (Ewen Bremner is a standout), Boyle's direction is still tight and it is another ripper of a soundtrack but ultimately Trainspotting 2 just can’t reach the heights of the original. But in the end after 20 years did anyone really expect it too?
Hi-lights – The first confrontation between Renton and Begbie is done in a cleverly hilarious way. Likewise Kelly MacDonald returns as Diane (Renton’s underage girlfriend from the original) in a devilishly comic scene.
Low-Lights –Besides too many flashbacks, the final ‘battle’ between Begbie v the others feels like a cliché confrontation from an action movie out of place in the Trainspotting world.
Still it’s a lot of fun and it’s wonderful to see the gang back together again. Choose Life again and go spend two hours with them.
3½ stars out of 5.