****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!!****
My Rating : 3 out of 5 stars
My Recommendation : SEE IT. If you absolutely loved Trainspotting, like I did, then see T2 for nostalgia purposes. If you were lukewarm on the original, then you can see T2 on cable or Netflix.
T2: Trainspotting, is the sequel to 1996's Trainspotting and just like the first film, T2 is directed by Danny Boyle, and is written by John Hodge based on the books Trainspotting and Porno by Irvine Welsh. The film returns the same actors who starred in Trainspotting as well, with Ewen McGregor (Renton), Ewen Bremner (Spud), Johnny Lee Miller (Sick Boy) and Robert Carlyle (Begbie) reprising their iconic roles.
Trainspotting is one of my favorite films of all-time. Part of the reason for that is that I am the son of a Scottish immigrant and consider myself to be a Scots-phile of the highest order. The film also resonated with me because the chaos and mayhem of it rang familiar to the madness surrounding my own struggle with substance abuse a few years before the film came out. Another reason I loved the film so much was because it was such a revolutionary and inventive work of cinema. Director Danny Boyle brought a unique and distinct style and perspective to the story of junkies languishing in Edinburgh, that it felt like a whole new wave of film was being born with Trainspotting.
Boyle has gone on to have a very good, but frankly, not great and often uneven career. Although Boyle is unquestionably a remarkably skilled filmmaker, he has not turned out to be a revolutionary director, and that's ok. But part of the appeal with Trainspotting was that it felt like cinema might be on the cusp of something very big and transformative. With T2, that air of possibility is deflated and long gone, and in a certain ironic way, that benefits the theme and tone of the film tremendously.
T2 is nowhere near the film Trainspotting was, but with that said, it is a serviceable sequel, entertaining and even insightful at times. Boyle's bag of cinematic tricks was spent on the first Trainspotting, but to the sequel he brings a self-assured and high quality craftsmanship. The chaotic and powerful energy of the first film is missing, but in its place is a proficient and calculated middle-aged desperation.
Ewen Mcgregor became a star as Renton in Trainspotting, and much like his director Boyle, McGregor has never become quite as big a star as that first major role promised. But the fact that both McGregor and Boyle have never hit the heights that seemed to be their destiny, is a wonderful backdrop for a film about lads in Edinburgh who never seem to get out of their own way or to have lived much of a life at all.
The undercurrent running through T2 is that of impotence and emasculation. All of the main characters are either incapable or disinterested in sex with women. Begbie can't get it up, Renton is sterile, Spud has lost his kids and Sick Boy hasn't closed the deal with his hot Bulgarian girlfriend. Add to that the school principal whose dirty little secret is that he likes to get banged in the ass by an attractive woman with a strap-on, and you've got a recurring theme…the deterioration and desecration of the archetypal Scotsman.
In T2, the Scotsmen have lost their balls and can only wallow in nostalgia for a time when they had them, be it 1690 or when Georgie Best ruled the world. This Scottish impotence is highlighted by the fact that the women dressed in Scottish garb greeting people at the airport are actually Eastern European. The Scotland of old is dying out and Renton, Spud, Sick Boy and Begbie are dying with it. The Scottish male is an endangered species and the existential crisis that rages at their core is why they so often turn to booze (Begbie) or drugs (Spud, Renton and Sick Boy) to medicate themselves.
The American working class is suffering through the same existential crisis as the Trainspotting crew went through twenty years ago. Opiates are killing Americans in record numbers, and there is no end in sight. The soul crushing aimlessness that festered in the soul of Edinburgh twenty years ago is now devouring an entire generation of working class Americans and whole swaths of America. In twenty years America's lost generation will be just as impotent and eternally flaccid as the T2 gang are in their sequel.
Some of the Trainspotting crew, like Renton, have cleaned themselves up since we last saw them, but addiction is a spiritual disease and "not using" is a step in the right direction, but it isn't a cure. The spiritual ailment at the core of the Trainspotting lad's woes remains, so without some sort of emotional/spiritual/mythical catharsis, relapse is inevitable. While the machinations of the plot of T2 are a bit mundane, this sub-text is what I found fascinating. Only Spud is able to be "re-born", both literally (the vomit scene) and figuratively (as a storyteller), into a person who can find catharsis from his existential malaise. Begbie is little more than a pre-historic id searching for a skull to bash, but in the end even he is able to find a deeper meaning to his otherwise savage life through his relationship with his son. But Renton and Sick Boy are both so narcissistic and adolescent that they are incapable of any true growth and are sentenced to a lifetime hating/loving each other.
It also fascinates me that T2 is a film about nostalgia, that is itself, a form of the same nostalgia that it comments upon. The lads all think about the good old days, which weren't very good, and can barely keep up with the present, never mind consider the future. And the fact that T2 even got made at all is a tribute to the susceptibility we all have for nostalgia. We all feel the pull of either the past, or the future, anything but the terrible here and now.
I know I enjoyed the nostalgic effects of T2, and that feeling of possibility that came along with the original Trainspotting. Like listening to Nirvana in the early 90's, Trainspotting made you feel like something was shifting artistically, and anything was possible. Cold, hard reality reared its head in the form of Kurt Cobain's heroin addiction, and the rigors of a film industry more interested in money than artistic transcendence or cultural relevance. But at least T2 brought back memories of that spirit of chaotic revolution, even if it was only momentary.
In the same vein, I kept thinking about the Scottish Independence referendum as I watched T2. When Independence lost that vote, I wondered why the Scots didn't have the balls to tell England to go fuck off. It seems in T2, Danny Boyle asks the same question. As a nation, if Scotland could have mustered the courage to become independent from the UK, then maybe the spiritual disease that ravages the soul of Scotland could have been healed, and catharsis could take place. But it didn't happen and Scotland, and the T2 lads, are still languishing in some sort of cultural and spiritual purgatory that drives them to stick needles in their arms and sleep their useless lives away. Heroin addiction, with its enforced ritual of shooting up, is a religion that fills the void left in a spiritually vacant heart. It also gives meaning and purpose to the addicts life, as insane as that seems to people not seduced into worshipping the god of opiates and dreams, Morpheus.
At least with the initial sting of the needle, the junkie feels something, which is better than being lifeless and numb all of the time. Americans know the numb all too well, and we use any and all means available, be it food, sports, technology, porn, or TV, to numb ourselves to the slow suffocating cultural and spiritual death that is wrapping itself around us like a python squeezing its prey. The sweet sin of heroin may leave a bitter taste in your mouth, but at least it tastes better than the bullshit of the delusional American dream being shoved down your throat.
America is stuck in its death spiral with no conceivable way out, this is why Trump was elected. The dupes who voted for him thought a grenade thrown into the system would change the trajectory of our death spiral, it won't. The Scots though, have a second chance at life with Brexit becoming reality. Scotland has another chance to find courage and get its balls back with a new referendum on Independence. I hope they can muster the strength and energy to do it, because it will be their last chance. For "no true Scotsman" would rather live on his knees than die on his feet, and if Scotland remains in the UK, the archetypal Scotsmen's balls will be permanently kept in a glass jar by the Queen's bed. Scotland will be reduced to a distant memory, to be wistfully recalled and remembered only through the aching haze of a fever dream induced nostalgia.