Still Crazy After All These Years, by Bob Connally

27 Mar

In 1996, Danny Boyle’s adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s wildly popular novel chronicling the lives of Scottish heroin addicts quickly became one of the highest grossing British films of all-time and an international hit. Trainspotting was accused by many who did not see it of glamorizing drug use. While it was incredibly entertaining and often very funny, its style unflinchingly showed the horrors of heroin addiction without taking a heavy-handed stance about it. If you can watch a character dig into the “worst toilet in Scotland” on his hands and knees, another wake up in a pile of his own excrement, and another dying in squalor of AIDS and come away from that film believing that being a heroin addict is an exciting and glamorous lifestyle then your critical thinking skills are almost certainly broken. While Boyle didn’t back away from the horrors he also didn’t back away from what it is about heroin that creates addicts in the first place. Still, I would imagine that for a teenager, watching Trainspotting would make a far more effective anti-drug teaching tool than anything he or she could learn from D.A.R.E.

When we last saw Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor), he was betraying his friends Sick Boy (Johnny Lee Miller, Elementary), Begbie (Robert Carlyle), and Spud (Ewen Bremner) after the four had sold 16,000 GBP (Great British Pounds) worth of heroin. Disappearing with all of the cash in a bag, he left 4000 pounds in a locker for Spud because of the other three he was the one who had “never hurt anybody.”

Twenty years on, Mark has been in Amsterdam, “choosing life” as a married businessman. Sick Boy is now going by his Christian name, Simon, but he’s making his living in Edinburgh as a struggling bartender and by blackmailing, well, married businessmen with his girlfriend Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova). He’s also traded heroin for cocaine. Meanwhile, Spud is as addicted to heroin as ever and Begbie has been passed over for parole after spending the past twenty years in prison. Now Mark is returning to Edinburgh in the hopes of reconnecting with Spud and making amends with Simon. Begbie, incarcerated or not, has plans of his own.

The first question that most big Trainspotting fans (which I most definitely am) will be asking is, “Is it as good as the first one?” The simple answer to that is no. But really, how could it be? Not only is virtually that entire movie forever burned into my brain, on a recent re-watch it decidedly stood up to the test of time. No sequel could be that iconic. It is as though Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge (he adapted the first movie as well) knew that they couldn’t match what they’d done the first time around, made peace with that and freed themselves to just make something that felt truthful to where these characters are now. By not attempting to equal- or more to the point, replicate- what they did in 1996, they were able to make a very good film.

Trainspotting was vibrant and pulsating with youthful energy, which made sense for a movie about characters in their early to mid-twenties. Now they’re ensconced in their forties and life has not worked out for any of them due to their own mistakes. While none of these guys feel old, they know they’re not really young anymore either, in spite of how much Mark and Simon try to deny that to themselves and to each other. Their scenes together exemplify a kind of awful nostalgia, in which they seem to long for the good old days when they were just starting off on their paths to self-destruction. All the while they’re playing around with smart phone features like a couple of sixteen-year olds. Veronika (who appears to be about half their age) is clearly far more grown up than either of them. This is where T2 is most like its predecessor. It shows us the sadness of these characters’ lives without ever really commenting on it and just like in the first film, it’s a real strength.

T2 Trainspotting is about four men who for better or worse (mostly worse) are bonded together for the entirety of their lives. We see glimpses of their childhoods together in this film, showing just how deeply their bonds run and also giving us an explanation for why they ever would have been friends with the psychotic and violent Francis Begbie. Both of these movies care very much about them in spite of their many failings as people. The most sympathetic character remains Spud, though we see that he has done terrible damage to Gail (Shirley Henderson) and their son Fergus because of his addiction’s grip upon him. Still, this movie likes its characters and so do we. Somehow, there’s even room in my heart for Begbie as horrible a human being as he is. It’s a testament not only to the writing but to Carlyle’s performances in both movies that we see some traces of humanity in the monster.

Beyond Carlyle, the rest of the returning cast members fall back into their roles with ease. It can be easy to forget that when Trainspotting was released these were largely unknown actors. McGregor had yet to play a young Obi-Wan Kenobi, it was a good fifteen years before Miller would be playing Sherlock Holmes on CBS, and before Carlyle would be a Bond villain or Rumplestiltskin on Once Upon a Time. It was much easier to just accept them as those characters in the first movie but even with twenty years of the baggage of celebrity and success, we accept them without hesitation here. Kelly Macdonald also re-appears briefly as Diane, the one character who’s truly made something of her life. Bremner, just like in the first movie, is a scene stealer.

There a few moments which don’t click in this film, but only a few. Really, the worst thing one can say about T2 is that it won’t be remembered 21 years from now the way that Trainspotting is today (or for that matter the way I suspect Trainspotting will be remembered then). It may not be an iconic masterpiece but that doesn’t prevent T2 from being a worthy successor to one of the quintessential films of the 1990s.

2 Responses to “Still Crazy After All These Years, by Bob Connally”

  1. Reed March 27, 2017 at 8:57 pm #

    I thought your article was really well-written, but — as a huge Paul Simon fan — your title made me so very happy.

    • Bob March 29, 2017 at 12:46 pm #

      Thanks, Reed! I’m glad you liked the review. I can’t take credit for the title though. That was Tyler.

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