Trainspotting came out the year I graduated high school and I would have had my 20th reunion last year had there been one. So I know without checking that it’s been almost 21 years since my friend snuck me into the movie theater she worked in and I saw what was to become one of my top 5 movies of all time. Mind you, my top 5 movies of all time has been the same since 2003 when Big Fish came out, another Ewan McGregor movie.
So how does the sequel to Trainspotting compare to the original? How does it compare to the book? Am I typing this in Mark Renton’s voice? Well, keep reading and find out.
There are many reasons to love Trainspotting, and I have many reasons for it. I remember at 18, in the midst of my partying years, appreciating that the movie showed so many different aspects of drug use. That people did it because it was enjoyable, but how ultimately if you weren’t careful it could completely ruin your life or end it. How it’s not just about heroin because look at Begbie. And how Mark was able to escape it all. How he had to leave his “mates” behind to do so.
I loved Trainspotting so much that I read the book, but I loved the movie more. My apologies to Irvine Welsh, but it’s hard to compete with such a great ready made soundtrack. Honestly though, I think it’s because McGregor and Boyle made the experience so much fun. And it contrasted starkly with the dead babies and dead friends like a big warning. You think you are having fun, but you’re one step away from watching your friends get hit by a train.
I loved it so much I read the sequel, Porno, when it came out in 2002. I tend to like continuing stories and finding out what happened to characters years later. There is a way to do it right, but I’ll get to that later. Either way I liked Porno overall. I don’t remember much enough to compare to this movie sequel (T2) except to say “kinda loosely based”, but Trainspotting 2 seems to also want to bring in some of the prequel book that came out a few years ago, Skagboys, which I didn’t finish and is about them before the events of Trainspotting.
You know that feeling when you haven’t seen your friends from high school or college for a few years, but somehow you get together or run into each other and then you just tell stories about when you were all teenagers or in college and just relive those memories? This is that movie. Renton goes back, it’s been 20 years and you might think ‘but it’s been 20 years and he screwed them over. This can’t go over well. What could they possibly have to even talk about?”
They talk about everything and the viewer learns just how long their friendship ran back, and it’s grade school. By the time of Trainspotting they’d already known each other more years than not. What Renton did was a huge betrayal. Renton gets pulled into a scheme that Sickboy has got going. Begbie gets out of jail. And Spud is still the only one of them who isn’t a complete piece of shit of a human being. And 21 years later, I finally realized that while my appreciation for this movie hadn’t wavered, I’m not 18 anymore, I look at it differently.
With age come wisdom, one would hope. There’s a part in T2 where Renton does a new “Choose Life” speech. You can hear it in the trailer. It’s starts off like fan service or perhaps a bad rip off of itself, and you want to dismiss it offhand and cringe. But when you watch the movie you get to hear the whole thing. The Choose Life speech in Trainspotting is iconic, but in T2, as Renton goes on and on, I suddenly realized we’d both aged together. The first speech at 18 sounded like my own rebellious thoughts, at 39 it sounds like any teenage rebellion. But now Renton, like me, is older, and knows first hand what our choices meant. Don’t bother looking up the new version unless you find the movie clip. The transcripts that went up in news articles are the shallow husk most believe this movie to be.
There’s a way to make a sequel to a drama, in my opinion, that can be worthwhile. No one I’ve seen has done it better than the Before Sunrise series that grew from a throwaway quirky romantic 90’s movie into sequels that go into love, marriage, fidelity, parenting, and more. Trainspotting 2 reminds me of these and if there’s ever a T3, I’m there.
There’s very little character arcs in this movie and no real overall plot carrying it. Sickboy said it best when he said Renton was a tourist in his own youth. The movie is interwoven with scenes from the original and clips that look like home movies of them when they were kids. It’s kind of heartbreaking. Like the moment Spud is walking and he realizes he’s at the stairs where he and Mark had been chased by the cops, the opening scene of Trainspotting. He sees the ghost of their past selves run by and then, as they fade away, you realize he’s completely alone in this world.
I left the theater feeling slightly depressed. I don’t believe people change, not really, and neither does the screenwriter or Irvine Welsh it seems. I have not been writing this in Mark Renton’s voice. Of course Trainspotting, the original, is better. You already knew that. But, like Mark Renton, I chose to go back anyway and I think we’re both glad we did. Either way, it’s not like we had anything else to do.