I’ve watched this film twice now. The first time intentionally and the second because it was the last film to sell out on a busy labour day weekend. I’m happy for the second viewing though because it really elevated my appreciation for this film a lot.
Since then I’ve been chatting about the film to people since and it’s been surprising how many haven’t seen the original trainspotting. It doesn’t seem like it has continued to be as popular with younger viewers as it initially was. Perhaps, probably, because once upon a time every share house in Melbourne (and I’d assume most western countries) had a copy of this film on DVD (as well as, it seemed, Human Traffic, Requiem for a Dream and The Fifth Element all share house staples in the late nineties and early 2000’s). Trainspotting’s popularity then seemed to be driven by it’s cheap and ready availability on DVD. I guess with the decline of DVD it’s not so much a classic by default anymore.
That aside the first film was and is amazing. It’s so hateful, so full of venom. A visceral exploration and part romanticisation and, simultaneously also damnation of heroin culture, Scotland, and post-punk, all contrasted with the rise of brash 90’s commercial culture. The first film is an iconic chain of events which are collected in a series of scenes which only forms into a loose narrative in the third act of the film to provide culture.
The author of Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh (who cameos as Mikey Forrester in both films), wrote a sequel to his first novel in 2002 entitled Porno. The same characters from the first novel reunited and hatched a scheme to get rich off the porn industry. It’s a good book and great character sequel to the events of the first novel but I think everyone assumed that it was unfilmable because of the high level of sexual content, and more recently, because with the collapse of the porn industry no one really expects to get rich off of amateur porn.
I was suspicious of a sequel when it was announced. There have been enough unwatchable late in the game sequels. Dumb and Dumber 2 and it’s mean spiteful nature is perhaps the worst example though Indiana Jones & the Crystal Skull and it’s sheer clumsiness and stupidity is a pretty close second while later instalments of Die Hard simply seem unnecessary.
On my first watch, of trainspotting 2 it took until almost three quarters into the film before my suspicion and distrust eased off and I began to enjoy it. Trainspotting 2 is the same characters and uses the basic setup of the novel Porno minus the get rich amateur porn storyline. It’s much different to the first film however because it relies upon narrative to tell a story of its characters rather than simply detailing their chaotic self-destructive lifestyles. For me at least the narrative ambition of trying to say what had happened to the characters and their city and how they felt payed off. Not only did I get over my mistrust but I came to love this film and what’s more it made value the first all the more.
This film doesn’t try twist or ignore the events of it’s predecessor, to create a new franchise or hide how old the actors are or how out of touch their characters are with youth culture. Bald spots are actually shown off. The mile a minute pop-culture dialogue between Johhny Lee Miller’s Sickboy and Ewan MacGregor’s Rentboy is still entertaining but not so much biting and funny now as self-deprecating, rueful and almost sad. In terms of these two characters, who were central to the first film, this second film examines them in a culture and stage of life where they are beyond punk and heroin and the irony of post-punk and are instead middle aged and merely low level and not very successful criminals rather than rebels happily wasting their potential.
The film updates it’s ‘choose life’ manifesto and takes subtle jabs at online culture, nostalgia, a conformist society and gentrification but just as all the characters are leery of younger generations ironically enjoying their own youth culture (in music and fashion) so too they are cautious now in attacking what is new.
Meanwhile the real surprise and main story of the film centres around Ewan Bremmer’s character of Spud and Robert Carlyle’s Begby and it’s in showing more of the backstory of one and the shattered dreams and despair of the other that the film really transcends itself and become not just good but a genuinely great film is so amazing in how much it treasures and loves its predecessor and the lives of the characters.