Friday, 3 March 2017

Some Thoughts on Trainspotting

On Friday 27th January I went to see T2 Trainspotting - the long awaited sequel to Danny Boyle's acclaimed Trainspotting which has achieved cult status across multiple generations. This was the first day it was out in cinemas, and I went to see it so early because I have a special kind of love for this film that I really can't describe. There's so much to say, so much to consider. And of course, I was incredibly fearful that the sequel was going to change my opinions on the original film and I wouldn't be able to watch it in the same way again. But that's not what happened.

I can't remember the first time I actually watched Trainspotting, but I know I stayed up late. My eyes were heavy and blurring from tiredness but I was so enchanted by what I was watching that I refused to go to sleep. The film centers around a group of heroin addicts in Edinburgh, Scotland, all trying to get themselves clean so they can get their lives together. The famous "choose life" line from the film is a parody of the 80s slogan that hovered it's way through the decade. Yet it's not as simple as it might seem. If we "choose life", we choose conformity, we choose getting a nine-to-five job, a nuclear family, a mortgage, a gym membership. Trainspotting, among other things, seeks to problematise what it means to choose life, whilst also exposing the devastating reality of drug-addiction caused by the insufficiency of 80's culture.


It is honestly a wonderful film, and has come to define a complete generation. As reader of cult novels I was desperate to get my hands on the book, and devoured it as quickly as I could. Many people find it impenetrable as a result of the language; it is written in a number of regional dialects, mostly Scottish, meaning that if you aren't accustomed to the accent it might be difficult to read. It took the same kind of work that reading A Clockwork Orange took, and I know that writer Irvine Welsh was significantly influenced by Burgess's novel when writing Trainspotting. It takes getting used to, but once you begin understanding the language you can really begin to appreciate the text.

When I heard there was going to be a sequel to the original film, I was understanding concerned. There always seems to be a need to make a sequel to things - to 'one up' the original. I already knew that nothing could beat the original film, but knowing that both Danny Boyle and Ewan McGregor were heavily involved in the production kind of lifted my hopes a bit. As the release date got closer, Welsh began engaging with it on his Twitter more often, tweeting photos of the cast and movie poster. Then the trailer dropped, and it was wonderful.


When I finally saw the film, I can't tell you how proud I felt of Danny Boyle. Somehow, he'd made a sequel without trying to be better, and instead T2 paid homage to the original movie. Film shots were echoed, such as the one where all four friends are stood on the train platform with the mountain in the foreground. The film closed with a shot of Renton (McGregor's character) starting to fall backwards akin to the way he does in the original as he succumbs to the euphoria of the drugs, but in the sequel he catches himself before he falls and starts to dance. He dances to a remastered version of Iggy Pop's 'Lust for Life', making sure we know that this is a distinctly modern film. It stands apart on its own, and it's relevant to a completely different era of consumers.

What I loved the most were the motifs that ran through T2. Trainspotting opens with the main characters running for their lives away from a police officer who is chasing them. In the sequel, Renton takes up running as a way to keep fit. He runs because he wants to, he chooses life that way. When he is hit by a car once again in a remake of the way it is done in the first film, he smiles and laughs at it, because not only are we reliving it as an audience, but he as a character, and as an actor, is reliving it too.

All in all, this film was about nostalgia. It was about looking back at the film from 20 years ago, and making a film with the exact same cast in real time, and paying homage to the fact that time has passed. Danny Boyle said himself that this film wouldn't have worked if any less than 20 years had passed, and I agree completely. I came out of the cinema so pleased with how the film had ended up, and it reignited my love in Welsh's fiction. I think one reason is the fact that this was explicitly a sequel, and not a remake of the original. Perhaps this helped them to stay away from the mindset that they had to make it an exact copy of the first one. I've recently bought the novel that T2 was based on, Porno, and plan to read it very soon.

If you haven't checked out Welsh's novels, I really advise you to do so. I've just finished rereading American Psycho for university, and I'm also part way through IT by Stephen King. This weekend I'm heading home and so will be taking Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy home with me for the weekend. I recently watched both adaptions of that film, and think the differences between both were very interesting. I love Hardy and feel like I don't read him enough. If you decide to read Trainspotting then let me know on your thoughts - I'd love to hear them.

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