Though it may be hard to accept for those who grew up with the film as a cornerstone of their youth, it’s been exactly 20 years since we last visited the characters of Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor), Simon a.k.a. “Sick Boy” (Jonny Lee Miller), Spud (Ewen Bremner) and Begbie (Robert Carlyle), from Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle’s second feature film “Trainspotting.”
The 1996 British film based on Irvine Welsh’s novel, which is considered one of the greatest British films of all time, revolves around a group of heroin-addicted young adults trying to disavow themselves from consumerist culture in economically trialed Leith, Edinburgh at the end of the Margaret Thatcher era.
Beloved for its depiction of a very specific underground subculture, the film became a cult classic upon release.
“It came out of a particular spirit of that time,” Boyle tells me. “Well, actually, it came out of ‘Rave Culture,’ the first film that is. A lot of it is about the heroin epidemic in the book, but also, in Britain at that time, it was also MDMA and the energy of ecstasy. Now they’re 46-year-old guys and they’re longing for the past, or certainly to relive the effortless bravado of the past.”
Loosely based on Welsh’s follow up novel “Porno,” the highly anticipated 2017 sequel, entitled “T2: Trainspotting,” picks up 20 years later. Following a mid-life crisis, but sober and clean, Renton returns to Scotland to reunite with Spud, who continues to battle with his addiction, and Sick Boy, who now owns a pub with his Bulgarian lady friend. Meanwhile, the violent, borderline psychopath Begbie is released from a prolonged prison sentence, who, to this day, continues to hold a massive grudge over Renton’s “minor” betrayal of fleeing off with the £16,000 they made together in a drug deal. When Sick Boy and Renton get the idea to turn the pub into a spa, the duo find themselves in familiar territory of scamming and thieving.
Only now the chosen life monologue has been modernized. Renton advises us to choose Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, reality TV, slut-shaming and revenge porn. It’s all been updated to match our current sociopolitical climate. So what does the film have to say about Brexit, the rise of Trump or the same widening income inequality that afflicted the middle-class characters in the first film and continues to worsen to this day both in the U.S. and UK?
Unfortunately, nothing. It’s a film about nostalgia first and foremost, or as Sick Boy so solemnly puts it, being “a tourist in your own youth.”
Boyle elaborated, “What’s the film going to mean for someone in their late teens or early 20s? …I have absolutely no idea. All I can tell you is men remain the same for far too long. I wasn’t really aware of it when we were starting it, but it felt like it was a look at masculinity. Every scene I watched, it was all about how men behave and how they hang on to this golden period.”
He went on, “And they would absolutely deny that. You know, ‘I’m not living in the past! Don’t accuse me of that! Don’t accuse me of nostalgia!’ But it is the golden period of the’20s when as a man you emerge into power. You know, you kinda had a childhood where everyone shat on you. And now suddenly, it’s you who gets to shit all over everybody else.”
He laughed, “It’s a glorious feeling, and men never abandon it, I don’t think. They go into their grey and don’t abandon it, whereas I think women measure out time much more sensibly.”
Boyle also touched on the topic of our rising heroin epidemic, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that, in 2015, heroin overdoses resulting in death surpassed gun-related homicide for the first time.
“Heroin will always be with us. These fluctuations where society concentrates on it and suddenly declares there were so many more deaths this year…” He paused. “I’m not denying that they’re true, but it’s not like it will ever go away. It’s been with us for time immemorial. Its power is that it isn’t fashionable. It has a compatibility with human nature and the human body, which is difficult to get rid of. If you ever end up in a hospital, you’ll be using it to ease your physical pain. And people on the streets use it to erase or control emotional or psychological pain.”
He humorously added, “But really, the drug of the day is Viagra, which it should be because they’re in their forties and Begbie is really struggling with that whole side of himself.”
Given Boyle was only in his late 30s when he made the first film, he spoke on how “T2” had a different creative process as he has now aged along with these characters.
“When we made the first one, the actors were very young and inexperienced so we didn’t really know what we were doing, hence some of the boldness of it,” Boyle said. “Then it can break either way; you can get crushed by that and have it backfire, or you get lucky if something emerges that is coherent or, as it was, thrilling and entertaining.”
He went on to discuss the fear of even following through with a sequel.
“Initially, you think, ‘If this is bad, we’ll get absolutely killed.’ Because obviously when you return to something people really treasure, you know if you fail you’re going to get slaughtered.” He laughed, “The actors, I used to see them looking at me on the set sometimes. I’d see them out the corner of my eye staring at me, and I knew they were thinking, ‘Oh I hope this isn’t s****, Danny, otherwise we’ll all die a death.’”
It wasn’t s****, Danny. It was a dignified follow up.
“T2: Trainspotting” is now playing in theaters nationwide.
Rob Gabe is a sixth-year student majoring in communication studies. He can be reached at RG770214@wcupa.edu.