T2 Trainspotting (Preview)
Reviewed by Jonathan Murray
Produced by Bernard Bellew, Danny Boyle, Christian Colson, and Andrew Macdonald; directed by Danny Boyle; screenplay by John Hodge, based on the novels Trainspotting and Porno by Irvine Welsh; cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle; editing by Jon Harris; production design by Patrick Rolfe and Mark Tildesley; costume design by Rachael Fleming and Steven Noble; starring Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Robert Carlyle, Jonny Lee Miller, Anjela Nedyalkova, Shirley Henderson, and Kelly Macdonald. Color, 117 min. A Sony Pictures release.
What a drag it is getting old. Midlife-crisis-cum-catch-up sequel T2 Trainspotting feels that in its aching bones. But Danny Boyle’s film also knows that the passing of time hurts some even more than others. We all lose our youth; yet only the once-gorgeous must mourn departed desirability as well. All of which begs the question: why would those responsible for a movie as on-trend and cocksure as Trainspotting was back in 1996 want to do anything other than let audiences lovingly idealize its original, wrinkle-free, iconic glory?
To its considerable credit, that isn’t a question T2 seeks to duck. An almost fatal instance of what he tellingly describes as “acute coronary insufficiency” brings a now-middle-aged Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) back home from an émigré life in Amsterdam to his native Edinburgh. Renton seems to see heart failure as karmic payback for his failure of heart at the original Trainspotting’s end, when he robbed erstwhile friends of their money and his presence in their lives. He therefore reconnects with former fellow junkies and partners in crime Spud (Ewen Bremner) and Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) in order to settle debts both financial and spiritual. Tough sell: Sick Boy’s reaction to Mark’s return is to vow “to hurt him in every way that I can.” He starts scheming furiously as a result.
Mark’s mission is yet further complicated by the competing agendas of two additional protagonists. A still-psychotic Begbie (Robert Carlyle) has recently escaped from a local high-security prison. Learning of Mark’s return home, he violently lusts to be let loose on the defenseless body of his mid-Nineties nemesis. Lastly, Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova), Sick Boy’s twenty-something Bulgarian immigrant girlfriend, supplants Diane (Kelly Macdonald) as the Trainspotting gang’s obligatory token female and Lolitaesque love interest. Veronika’s youthful cool and clear-sighted detachment recall nothing so much as Mark’s character two decades before—which leads one to wonder whether she will also end up displaying his ready capacity for betrayal.
All of the above suggests one major way in which T2 Trainspotting unquestionably recalls and replays its cinematic parent’s celebrated example, breathlessly and gleefully unspooling itself in successive waves of plot-heavy picaresque. But if age seems not to have withered Renton and his gang in one sense, it clearly leaves them wondering whither in another. Mark, Spud, Sick Boy, and Begbie’s shared middle-aged awareness of time’s inexorable tick-tocking dictates a collective interest in settling scores rather than scoring smack. The passing of the years—what they do to people and what people do (or don’t) with them—is set square as T2’s central thematic preoccupation. Sick Boy rails against the absence of a “time machine” with which he might reset his misspent life; Begbie worries that the British prison authorities think him immortal and set his jail term accordingly; Mark’s self-diagnosis is of a man “forty-six and fucked”; Spud writes a letter apologizing for “all the things I’ve destroyed.”
So what, you may say: middle-aged men make a movie about middle-aged men hating the fact that they’re men and middle-aged. But then, large parts of the original Trainspotting’s ideas—being young is a beautiful mess—were considerably less audacious in content than was the cinematic energy and ingenuity of their realization on screen. Similarly, T2’s discourse on the unpleasant facts of a later life stage resonates because of the frequent style with which it’s communicated, rather than the revelatory substance of the communication itself. If over thirty, you probably don’t need this or any other movie to inform you that time is the enemy. You can, however, still admire the witty verve with which T2 illustrates that thesis.
The film wastes no time—the middle-aged don’t have it to burn, after all—in settling to this task. Opening close-up shots of Renton’s feet pounding a gym treadmill directly reference Trainspotting’s iconic opening chase/“Choose life” introduction. Within seconds, many of the new movie’s central ideas about aging are inferred as a result. Young Mark took pleasure in running precisely because such pleasure could be absolutely taken for granted; older Mark endures running precisely because he knows it’s a burden he won’t always be physically able to shoulder. Young Mark experienced life in terms of novelty and spontaneity; older Mark instead endures its monotony and rigidity. Young Mark is invincible, not dying when by all rights he could or should (he is almost hit full speed by a passing car); older Mark is all-too-fragile, nearly dying when actively trying to delay that eventuality (sent into cardiac arrest by an exercise regimen). If this smart, efficient opening associates time’s onward march with human disappointment—an idea T2 then repeatedly riffs on—other of the film’s key images and sequences instead link the passing of the years to ideas of outright danger. Sick Boy and Veronika blackmail unsuspecting purchasers of her sexual favors by recording those sordid transactions via a camera hidden inside a bedside clock; elsewhere, Sick Boy bludgeons Mark with a brass hand bell used to call closing time in a local bar...
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Cineaste, Vol. XLII, No. 2