Much like the question facing Disney when it was considering a remake of the 1990’s animated classic “Beauty and the Beast,” the team behind another (and very different) classic 90’s film, “Trainspotting,” also had to decide whether it served any purpose to revisit such hallowed ground.
The answer turns out to be a resounding “yes,” but the result is a very different kind of movie experience from the original, pitch-dark comedy about junkies in Scotland.
First off, “T2 Trainspotting” is a sequel, not a remake. And it’s a very specifically timed sequel. It doesn’t just pick up where the last film left off because it can’t. The first movie was made a full two decades ago, and all four of the main actors are back, “T2” by necessity picks up the story a full 20 years later.
“Hello, Mark. So what you been up to for 20 years?”
On the face of it, that may sound like a clunky way to pick up the narrative but that early scene is actually fraught with all sorts of emotion and tension. It’s the first time Sick Boy has seen his best friend Mark Renton since Renton ripped off 16,000 pounds of drug money from him and his mates at the end of “Trainspotting.” The two of them proceed to have a bar fight for the ages, as two decades worth of rage and guilt and resentment come pouring out of both of them.
Eventually, we catch up with all four Trainspotting mates. Renton (Ewan McGregor) has been hiding out in Holland, Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) is running a sleazy blackmail business, Spud (Ewen Bremner) is still a junkie but now also suicidal, and the psychotic Begbie (Robert Carlyle) has just escaped from prison after 20 years behind bars.
These once hyper, frisky, hard-living and fun-loving 20-something low-life now find themselves middle-aged losers and that doesn’t sit well with any of them. Their youthful charms have curdled.
Director Danny Boyle, in a sit-down interview with me, compares his two Trainspotting films, philosophically, to the famous documentary series “7 Up,” which tracks the same group of children every seven years for a lifetime. Both projects demonstrate how we all both change and don’t change as we age. In the intervening 20 years, the Trainspotting fellows have, in many ways, changed a lot but in other ways, they haven’t changed much at all.
And just as the Trainspotting guys have to grapple with their less-than-thrilling (and fulfilling) lives, Boyle too has to deal with the fact he’s now making a movie that almost by definition will be less exciting, less of an adrenaline rush, than that first, dynamic film. How can anyone’s later years compete with the thrill of one’s early years?
Boyle laughingly acknowledges he (and his characters) have to come to terms with that fact.
“There’s no way it’s (even) half as interesting! And that becomes a big ingredient in the film,” he told me. “They do try to relive the past. They go on a couple of binges. They go into a (dangerous) club and sing a great song, “No More Catholics.” It’s all very much like that first film — that irreverence, and carelessness, and recklessness. But then you can’t just do that, repeat the same thing. They have to realize that time moves on, that time doesn’t care about them. That’s the way the deal works for all of us.”
Although there’s certainly a pathetic aspect to these aging bad boys, Boyle tells me he nonetheless finds the characters every bit as likable as their younger counterparts, but for very different reasons.
“After they’ve had a go at recreating the past, they begin to fess up,” Boyle said. “They have an honesty about where they are, and they are nowhere, to be frank. I love the fact that they’re able to stand naked before you and kind of acknowledge that. I think you also identify with them because in many ways a lot of us feel that .. that the good times seem to have gone, really, and what’s left? Our only consolation is a bit of wisdom. Wisdom begins to arrive to kind of validate our time, ‘cuz little else does.”
In the original “Trainspotting,” we may have lived vicariously through the dangerous hurly-burly of these junkies’ adrenaline-fueled lives. But by the time “T2” rolls around, these middle-aged punks are, for better or worse, now us.