Remember? Trainspotting? That cult film from the mid 90s? If you do, you’ll probably be thinking about recreational heroin, the gritty underworld of Edinburgh town, and a very dirty toilet. But this film was much more than that – it defined a generation, sticking two Scottish fingers up to the Hollywood blockbuster philosophy, all the while imploring us to ‘choose life!’ It was real. Real people, real stories and a very real drug problem. So, there’s no surprise that Danny Boyle’s long-awaited sequel (21 years to be exact) sparked immense excitement among fans. But, the thought on everyone’s mind… how do you possibly follow that?
For me, the thought of catching up with the old gang 20 years on was a hugely exciting prospect. Renton, Sick Boy, Begbie and Spud – older, none-the-wiser, and unmistakably themselves. It’s difficult to not feel nostalgic looking at these familiar faces. However, it’s not just the Scot lads that make their encore. The T2 cast, in spite of their deeper wrinkles, are still battling the same demons, still conflicted by their masculinity, and still desperately seeking an escape from the mundane brace of modern life. But, with a twist.
Boyle cleverly taps into social realities that keep this film relevant. Instead of harking back to 1990s Edinburgh, we watch as 4 men becoming stuck at a crossroads between old habits and the new world. McGregor is met by a ‘welcome to Edinburgh!’ airport greeter, scantily clad in Scottish tartan, who when asked ‘where are you from?’, replies ‘Slovenia’. The social irony is palpable, particularly in the wake of post-Brexit Britain. Renton is clearly bemused – this is not the Scotland he fled from over 20 years ago, forcing him into an infamous rant that made film 1 so famous.
We are asked to choose Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, an ironic cultural revamp on the previous Renton speech. T2 is unequivocally rooted in the 21st Century. But, you get the sensation that while the years go on, society goes backwards. Boyle clearly critiques the state of modern affairs throughout the film… he even promotes ‘shooting up’ in a bedsit as a welcome alternative. At least it’s something the boys are accustomed to.
“So why return to Edinburgh in the first place?” We all want to ask Renton. Maybe to show off his new lifestyle to old comrades? Instead of running from the police at the start of the film, he’s running on a treadmill. Instead of injecting heroin, he’s drunk on the boundless possibilities of life. We are encouraged to notice and admire the dramatic change in Renton. But really, we end up feeling more sorry for him than ever before. He has fallen prey to the conventional motions of modern life, perhaps forcing us to realise… maybe we have too?
The cultural significance of Trainspotting chapter 1 is not something to be taken lightly – the Guardian famously described it as ‘era defining’. This film meant a lot to a lot of different people, and no doubt crowds of fans left the cinema with a spring in their step. T2 brings this movement full circle, showing the damning nature of 21st Century life and gives answers to those who needed them. But do we leave the movie theatre with the same sense of liberation and freedom as 20 years prior? No, but we do leave with something even more important. A desire for quiet contemplation and reflection. As a political statement, T2 undoubtedly picks up where it left off, making stories real for the audience. But this time the message is much darker – what do we need to change in our own lives after watching this film? Go and see it to decide.