Review: What T2: Trainspotting Means To Me
Updated: Nov 18, 2020
The buzz surrounding the release of the long-awaited sequel to the cult classic ‘Trainspotting’ was something that I thought was universal. Of course everyone is excited for T2, of course everyone can’t wait to see what happened to Renton, Spud, Sick Boy and Begbie when they reached their mid-life crisis. ‘T2’ had even infiltrated the Brexit debate, when MP Hannah Bardell parodied the famous “Choose life…” monologue to express the frustration of the Scots after the dreaded decision on the 23rd June 2016. ‘Trainspotting’ could be considered one of the most relevant cultural phenomenon to be produced from the UK in the last 20 years.
Yet when I pitched the idea for this article to the Diplomat Journal team, despite the approval from my English colleagues, I was met with an awkward silence and puzzled faces. “Trainspotting? You’re going to write about trains?” “What’s so special about a movie about heroin?” Realising that ‘Trainspotting’ is only a real thing in the UK felt strange, but at least now I’m writing something surprisingly original. Compared to the countless media attention T2 has already received, the combination of a later release date and its low profile in the Netherlands gives this article a sense of uniqueness that I wasn’t expecting.
Despite my love for the book and the movie, I feel neither the original or the sequel resonate with me as much as many here would think. Although it is one of the few mainstream movies to depict my beautiful home town Edinburgh, and the characters speak in accents and dialect that I have to translate even to my English friends. But ‘Trainspotting’ depicts an era that was before my time, the movie being the same age as I proves this, an era that I hear about mainly through my parent’s stories. The era of the punks, when Edinburgh was the heroin and HIV/AIDS capital of Britain. A time were Leith was a no-go zone filled with poverty. All of this was far removed from my privileged private school life in the sheltered suburbs of north-west Edinburgh. But there are certain themes in the books and movies that are still relatable despite my distance: support for Hibernian FC, the excitement of London, getting chatted up by guys obviously out of their minds when sneaking into clubs, the Edinburgh Festival, fish and chips… This is the way that I have somehow convinced myself that I am an expert on the subject of ‘Trainspotting’, so let me show you what I have to offer.
If you haven’t already heard, ‘Trainspotting’ is a novel by Irvine Welsh that depicts the lives of Renton, Spud, Sick Boy and Begbie and their friends who all live in Edinburgh and all suffer from some kind of addiction. Most of the story is told through the many philosophies of Mark Renton, a heroin addict trying desperately to quit despite being surrounded by all manner of temptation. Daniel “Spud” Murphy, a hopeless addict with a kind soul and positive outlook on everything, who refers to everyone as “Catboy”. Sick Boy, a scheming addict turned former-addict who gets all the girls and has an obsession with Sir Sean Connery. And Francis Begbie, an alcoholic and dangerous psychopath who has been friends with Renton since their time in primary school. We are taken through all their trials and tribulations, including an incident with a smashed beer glass and a poor woman’s head; shooting dogs and killing squirrels in the gardens; run ins with the Orange Order; prison; rehab in their childhood bedroom; the worst toilet in Scotland; and finally the ultimate skag deal, after which Renton escapes to Amsterdam with all the money, to the dismay of Sick Boy and fury driven rage of Begbie.
‘T2: Trainspotting’ picks up the story 20 years later when (in the movie) Renton returns and attempts to heal the broken relationships he has with his family and his friends, despite their hostility, all whilst avoiding the escaped convict Begbie, who has been inside for nearly 20 years and wants revenge for Renton’s betrayal…
While the movies on the surface seem very different, most likely due to the second’s significant lack of heroin, they both address the same problems: addiction, and fitting into a new world that is constantly changing. While ‘Trainspotting’ deals with a generation of young people who don’t fit into the new modern world of the Capitol-obsessed 90s; ‘T2’ deals with the same characters now in middle-age who still haven’t found their place in the present day digital age. This idea that there is a mould that we have to fit into to keep up with society, and if we don’t we are left behind and forgotten is illustrated perfectly. To actually see what life is like for the people who reject the “normal” processes and struggles of daily life is what makes ‘Trainspotting’ and ‘T2’ truly unique, yet keeping aspects of Leith, Edinburgh and Scottish culture shows how real these people are, and not some false over-the-top creation from the mind of a Hollywood romantic.
However, the two movies are very different. ‘Trainspotting’ is primarily focused around the character’s relationship with heroin, ‘T2’ only shows heroin in one scene in the whole movie. Despite the copious amounts of cocaine and alcohol that do feature, the sequel has to deal with the same iconic characters without their defining struggle which was, in many ways, what drove the last story. Regarding this, it does feel strange to watch the second instalment, seeing as it is remarkable that most of the characters have actually stayed alive until their 40s. The movie strays far away from the book that it is based, ‘Porno’, but I think this was for the better. The first movie was so iconic they needed to emulate something that made it so great, and the book doesn’t draw on nostalgia in the way that ‘T2’ does. Many added sequences of Renton and Sick Boy actually enjoying each others company once they start reminiscing about their friendship as children and their football heroes play into the same nostalgia the viewers feel watching the movie. ‘Trainspotting’ became part of the cultural identity of Edinburgh, so Danny Boyle (Director) knew the best way of making ‘Porno’ into ‘T2’ had to be cutting out most of the story and remoulding it to become another chapter in the same cultural history.
Despite this, I still enjoyed the movie more than I expected. Maybe that’s because the last time I’ve been home in Edinburgh was Christmas and some levels of homesickness may have been triggered. But I guess that was the point of the movie itself, it touched on that deep-rooted love for the city and its people that only Edinburgers far and wide could truly understand. Plus it has revived the Choose Life monologue in all walks of life, which is arguably making advertising more interesting than its usual annoying status. So in the spirit of the hype, I’ve decided to try and create a Trainspotting-style Choose Life advert for Maastricht…so here you go.
Choose Maastricht. Choose 8:30am tutorials on Mondays mornings and lectures at 6pm on Friday nights. Choose the promise of an international environment, only to find a mass of German business students. Choose no-one taking your FASoS degree seriously. Choose cycling in the rain. Choose bitterballen, mild & creamy cheese, Musti. Choose clothes from H&M. Choose living in the shadow of the Maastricht Treaty after Brexit. Choose Carnival music, Geert Wilders, the Maastricht Syndrome. Choose legal weed. Choose fraternities and sororities that you aren’t allowed near. Choose finding yourself in de Alla at 5am fighting off 40-year-old Dutch men.
Choose Life. Choose Maastricht.