Editor’s Note: T2 Trainspotting is currently playing in limited theatrical release.
It’s hard to imagine anyone outside of Danny Boyle, Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, or Robert Carlyle who wanted, let alone demanded, a sequel to the 1996 adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s blackly comic, transgressive, subversive satire, Trainspotting, but here we are 21 years later with T2 Trainspotting, a near brilliant sequel that brings back the central characters for another go-round in contemporary Edinburgh, Scotland. Time hasn’t been exactly kind to the once twenty-something outsiders. They’re worse for wear, some worse than others. They’re older, grayer, but definitely not wiser. They’re locked in a death spiral fueled by an unhealthy obsession with a romanticized, idealized past (nostalgia may not kill, but it can certainly paralyze), a past where the future, seemed to offer limitless possibilities, not a present where opportunities for change or growth aren’t just limited, they’re nonexistent. They chose life, but not these particular lives, lives filled with disappointment, resentment, and regret.
T2 Trainspotting plays off at least two layers of nostalgia: The audience’s nostalgia for a 20-year-old film and its characters, the characters’ nostalgia for their own past.
When we meet McGregor’s Mark “Rent Boy” Renton again, he’s leading what looks like a comfortable middle-class life in Amsterdam. He’s in relatively good shape, exercising regularly in a local gym. A sudden collapse on a treadmill, however, forces Mark to face his mortality in the only way he knows possible: He leaves Amsterdam behind and returns to Edinburgh, the literal scene of his crime, the theft of ill-gotten drug money from his confederates, Simon “Sick Boy” Williamson (Miller) and Francis “Franco” Begbie (Carlyle), a violent sociopath. Renton’s third confederate, Daniel “Spud” Murphy (Bremner), faired marginally better, receiving a share of the proceeds thanks to Renton’s last-minute change-of-heart, but Spud did what any drug addict would do: He scored drugs until he ran out of money.
Not surprisingly, Renton’s former colleagues don’t embrace him with open arms when he returns to the fold. After losing his wife, the respect of his son, and his job, Spud’s ready to end this life and move on to the next. Simon runs a near-empty, dilapidated pub by day and a blackmail scam by night with his sometime girlfriend and business partner, Veronica (Anjela Nedyalkova), a Bulgarian sex worker. Veronica seduces older, married men into kinky sex, Simon records it and together they attempt to extort their marks for reasonable amounts of cash. Simon still harbors a major grudge for Renton’s long-ago betrayal, but it’s Begbie, freshly out of prison (escapee, not a parolee), that proves to be a champion grudge holder. The mere idea of Renton fills him with paroxysms of rage. He wants revenge, the more violent, the better.
It’s hard to imagine anyone outside of Danny Boyle, Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller or Robert Carlyle who wanted, let alone demanded, a sequel to the blackly comic, transgressive, subversive satire Trainspotting, but here we are 21 years later with T2 Trainspotting, a near brilliant sequel that brings back the central characters for another go-round in contemporary Edinburgh.
T2 Trainspotting runs along multiple parallel tracks: Renton tries to do good by helping Spud kick his heroin addict, tries reconciling with Simon by becoming his business partner in Simon’s latest, money-making venture, turning the pub into a high-end bordello, and stay safely out of Begbie’s path. Begbie’s comically disastrous return to his family suggests you really can’t go home again, at least not after 20 years in prison. While Begbie dreams of a father-son crime spree, his son dreams of a career … in hotel management and the middle-class normality and respectability a career in the hotel industry promises. But even as T2 Trainspotting segues form Renton and Spud, Renton and Simon, Renton and Begbie, and later Renton and Veronica, with one or more betrayals increasingly likely, it keeps circling back to familiar motifs, images, and events derived the first Trainspotting film. T2 Trainspotting plays off at least two layers of nostalgia: The audience’s nostalgia for a 20-year-old film and its characters, the characters nostalgia for their own past. To paraphrase an old phrase, they don’t want to forget the past, dooming themselves to repeat it. They want to live in the past, their shared and individual pasts, not literally – because T2 Trainspotting, despite its oblique reference to Terminator 2: Judgment Day, doesn’t involve time travel or time machines (though maybe it should have) – but figuratively. It goes hand-in-hand with an incomplete or arrested form of responsibility- and accountability-free masculinity that Boyle both critiques and celebrates in Renton, Simon, and Spud, sometimes simultaneously. Call it toxic masculinity, but in Boyle’s hands, it’s rarely less than enthralling and more often than not, flat-out entertaining.
T2 Trainspotting is a darkly comic, nostalgic sequel to the 1996 film about 20-something outsiders who are now older, grayer, but definitely not wiser.