Comic Review Written and Drawn by David Yoder
Trainspotting 2: The More Things Change the More They Stay the Same
Written Review by David Carter
“Choose unfulfilled promise and wishing you’d done it all differently.
Choose never learning from your own mistakes.
Choose watching history repeat itself.
Choose the slow reconciliation towards what you can get, rather than what you always hoped for. Settle for less and keep a brave face on it.
Choose disappointment and choose losing the ones you love then as they fall from view, a piece of you dies with them until you can see that one day in the future, piece by piece they will be all gone and there will be nothing left of you to call alive or dead.
Choose your future, Veronica.
-Mark Renton in Trainspotting 2
Time marches forward. Whether we like it or not, things begin and things end. If we’re lucky we get to live some semblance of a life (either happy or glum) between the start and finish. Sometimes during this never-ending trot, it feels like the worst thing that can happen is that while the world changes rapidly, you remain static. Not static in the way that you’ve lost touch with what’s important in the world, but static in the sense that your growth as a human being became stunted. Maybe you never got closure from something, or perhaps life has dealt you a hand that made stasis the safest bet of survival among an ocean of unreliable choices. Maybe growth was unpalatable because it’s followed by the inevitability of decay. Danny Boyle and John Hodge’s magnetic follow up to the generation-defining Trainspotting wants to look at the lives of the endearing but aged psychopaths, sociopaths and junkies and figure out if they chose life and growth and if not: Why?
Trainspotting 2 (also slyly called T2.) picks up 20 years after the events of the first movie. It’s clear from each of the characters reintroductions to the audience that not many of them chose life, or at least not the life the had in mind for themselves. Francis “Franco” Begbie (Robert Carlyle, who is always terrifying in this role) is serving a 25-year sentence after is his dark deeds in the first Trainspotting. His temper and impulses haven’t dulled any (and his cadence isn’t any less incomprehensible) during his time in rehabilitation, made evident by the way he attacks his lawyer for being denied parole for that same temper. Opportunist Simon “Sick Boy” Williamson (Johnny Lee Miller) is blackmailing politicians and people of power by filming them engage in strap-on themed sexual congress with his “girlfriend” and immigrant sex worker Victoria (wonderful new addition Anjela Nedyalkova). He plans on using the funds to open up his own Scottish sauna (and brothel) but most of the money just ends up in his nose. He’s still a junkie, he’s just chosen a new drug. In a dark (but more honest) mirror Mark “Rent Boy” Renton’s own addiction is to fitness. He’s always running. Still running from a past that he never quite laid to rest no matter how far he got away from it. When the movie opens we see his feet pounding a treadmill. A direct echo (echoes are something this movie puts at the forefront) to the “Lust For Life” charged mayhem of the opening chase sequence in the first film. Except this time Mark isn’t being chased by anything except his own mortality. He falls to the ground and the music stops. These are and aren’t the same people we grew to love 20 years ago.
The inciting action comes on two fronts. Mark decides to return home. He’s been living in Amsterdam all these years after running off with the £16,000 (12,000 of which he kept for himself) he stole at the end of the first film. The other inciting action unbeknownst to Mark is Franco’s escape from a hospital after a hilarious botched planned injury to get him into said hospital. Franco is reasonably and dangerously angry about being ripped off by Mark and left to rot in a prison cell. This mixture becomes dangerous when both come into contact with Simon separately at his pub (in addition to blackmail, Simon makes a living tending to his inherited pub, serving the same ten old sad sacks who come in to drink in silence) and he’s looking to get his own simultaneous revenge and friendship back from Mark. Soon, schemes are hatched, drugs begin to flow and the great nostalgia beast is fed, all while the dark specter of Begbie’s presence (still unknown to Mark) threatens to have it all come crashing down. At some point, people are going to have to confront what they did and what they haven’t done.
But, none of these people want to face up to the fact that they have changed or that they have skeletons in their closet. Franco is a psychopath with a raging Id ready to lash out at the first “doss cunt” who looks at him the wrong way. In some respects, he’s a walking phallic symbol, which makes his (literal and figurative) impotence and softening in this movie that more interesting. Franco returns home to his wife and now grown up child. He wants to slip back into his old lifestyle stealing from and hurting people as if domesticity and parental responsibility don’t surround him. His son doesn’t want the life of crime his father has. He wants to go to school for hotel management and hang with his friends. Franco doesn’t hear it though. That’s sissy talk to him. Mark and Simon essentially relive a greatest hits montage of the first film as they start reconnecting. They put on their old soccer jerseys, sing Iggy Pop songs, and wax poetic about their glory days to a thoroughly uninterested Victoria. However, these men haven’t come to grips with the trauma and guilt of their past lives. Tommy and the dead baby of the first film are always hanging out in the back of Mark and Simon’s minds as physical representation of the destruction they left behind in their youth and haven’t come to grips with in middle age. Tommy representing Marks hangs up with mortality and consequence and the dead baby being the tragic loss of human connection for Simon. But, I’ve neglected to mention the one character who has made attempts to grow and become a better person as the enter the second half of their lives. Spud (Ewen Bremmer), the once comical hard luck character of the first film is now the emotional core and main character of T2.
In Trainspotting, Spud was there to serve one purpose: Be the man that life constantly shat on (not always figuratively). He’s the one person in the film who has no ulterior motives or nasty streak. He’s awarded at the end of the film for this by getting £4000 of the £16,000 that Mark steals. Turns out this is one last trick life pulls on him. He’s a junkie and he just shoots it into his arm, causing him to spiral even further than his comrades. The spiral includes one event that serves as the thesis of the film. He recounts to Mark (who saves Spud from a stomach-churning suicide attempt) about a seemingly insignificant accident that lead to his downfall. The accident? Not accounting for Daylight Savings Time, which leads a chain of events that has him lose his job, his wife and child abandoning him, and a relapse back onto smack. For Spud, like the other boys, time stood still and at the time it was no consequence but he’s unique in that life shows him why it matters. This realization leads to Spud looking around at his life and taking it all into account. He becomes the focal point of the story, and the movie is better for it. Instead of a lovable sociopath as our protagonist, we get a lovably flawed man trying to make sense of it all so that he can move forward. His arc is the arc of the entire movie.
Director Danny Boyle is the Gen X director that has become the most sentimental as he’s grown older, but not maudlin. He still knows how to work visual flair (he pulls every trick out of a bag you would think empty at this point) and breakneck pop pacing like a 20 year with something to prove. He knows the world is still nasty and that he and his characters are the generation that time forgot and is still angry about it, but he’s also melancholy about it too. You can see a little of him in all four of these boys, but you can tell he sees more eye to eye with Spud than Mark at this point in his life. Maybe he realizes that it’s not so much about whether or not he and these characters chose life and why. Maybe it’s more about that even when you’ve squandered and lost so much, it’s never too late choose life. Go ahead and drop the needle on “Lust for Life” again. You still crave it.