TRAINSPOTTING 2 directed by Danny Boyle (UK, 2016)
I was a big fan of the 1970s British sit com ‘Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads’ in which two buddies meet up again after drifting apart for five years.
When they reconnect, one, Bob Ferris (Rodney Bewes) is nurturing nouveau riche trappings and getting settled into a cosy, middle-class suburban niche complete with a conventional, status conscious, fiancé. Meanwhile, Terry Collier (James Bolan) remains stubbornly working class. He is back from Germany after a failed marriage and a wound sustained during military service that he prefers not to talk about.
“What became of those people we used to be”, ran the show’s theme tune and this is also the unspoken question that hangs over Danny Boyle’s sequel to the hugely successly 1996 Trainspotting movie.
T1 was a movie that struck a chord with a generation of Brits, not because the viewers were drug addicts or identified with the Scottish setting but because they tapped into rebellious template summed up by the ‘choose life’ monologue (“Choose life. Choose a family. Choose a career. Choose a big fucking television………” etc etc).
This rant railed against all the traps and trappings of a lifestyle built around security and consumer durables. It is updated in Trainspotting 2 (T2) to dismiss the illusory ‘freedom’ offered by social networks and to pour scorn on those who think anyone really gives a flying fuck how often you update your Facebook profile.
Above all, Trainspotting re-booted is still about four men struggling to make and/or break bonds in an awkward manner that is uniquely male. Now it’s also about coming to terms with getting old. A common interest in hard drugs and reckless living remains tenuously intact although only Spud (Ewen Bremner) is still an addict.
The first movie ended with an act of betrayal as Renton (Ewan McGregor) ran off with most of the proceeds from a drug heist. We learn that he fled to Amsterdam and seemingly went straight, training to become an accountant and getting wed. Taking this ‘choose security’ compromise has proven to be transient since his job is now on the line and his marriage is on the rocks.
The sequel begins with him returning to Edinburgh apparently with a notion that the bridges he burnt can somehow be rebuilt. But when he gives Sick Boy / Simon (Johnny Lee Miller) back the share of the cash he stole, his partner in crime is unimpressed: “What am I supposed to do with this – buy a fucking time machine?”
Sick Boy has used the two decades to become an alternative entrepreneur as a pimp and blackmailer. His accomplice is Veronika, a male fantasy version of a hooker – young, pretty, intelligent, sexually available and un-hardened by the degrading experience of fucking for cash.
An even bigger threat lies with Begbie who is still angry after all these years and has just so happens to choose this moment to escape from prison. For some inexplicable reason the police don’t seem much bothered to re-apprehend him so he quickly falls back into a life of crime and vows to reap bloody revenge on Renton. As a one-dimensional head case Begbie is not an especially nuanced character. He is convincingly played by Robert Carlyle but only shows a softer side when he accepts his son is not a chip off his block.
T2 is a lively and entertaining romp but when push comes to shove it doesn’t really have too much to add to the original.
I think a major weakness of the story is that it misses the chance to show how the UK has changed and/or is changing over the last two decades. It is a movie that dwells more on the past than the present.
At its conclusion Renton is back in the room he grew up in. He cues the stylus to side one, track one of a vinyl disc – choose Lust For Life. “Here comes Johnny Yen again” announces Iggy. Renton dances and the nostalgic loop has come full circle. The words of the ‘Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads’ theme tune sums up the message this conveys: “Tomorrow’s almost over / Today went by so fast / It’s the only think to look forward to / The past”