Last week, the first official teaser for Trainspotting 2 was released. I’m so happy about this that I don’t have a follow-up cranky remark.
Okay, I hate T2 as a title and I’m extremely annoyed with James Cameron for allowing it. When did we all become so fussy about sequel titles? Just call it Trainspotting 2, it’s not a big deal. Otherwise, I am elated beyond words.
In fact, I’m so happy that I’m about to type a phrase that would usually make me lose the will to live immediately after snapping down on the period key:
Lots to unpack here, folks.
First of all, I’d like to take a paragraph to celebrate the return of Robert Carlyle to the cinema. I yearn for the days when Robert Carlyle appeared in every other film I saw and was always the best thing in them by a country mile (see also The World is Not Enough). For further proof that Robert Carlyle is one of the most underrated actors on the planet, take a mere six minutes out of your day and watch what Carlyle does in a single goddamn take.
Now, can one possibly develop an opinion on the quality of a motion picture based on one shot alone? Of course. But for Trainspotting fans, there’s more to think about than one might realize upon first glance. Spoilers from this point forward.
Trainspotting ends with Renton (Ewan McGregor) ripping off his “so-called mates” out of the drug deal they just made, albeit leaving a cut for the hapless junkie Spud (Ewen Bremner). Spud and Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) escape arrest for the deal while Begbie (Robert Carlyle) is arrested. So the first question on my mind was, “What the hell is Begbie doing there?” Begbie spent ten years in prison as a result of Renton’s betrayal. Wouldn’t he want Renton horribly killed? Already, I can’t wait to find out the answer to that question.
Second of all, anyone who has seen the film could be forgiven for thinking that all of these men should be dead by now due to their reckless lifestyles. Not necessarily. Renton kicks heroin at the end; Begbie never used it in the first place, and Sick Boy was only ever a casual user. Spud is the only one who, by all accounts, really should be pushing up the daisies alongside the late Tommy (Kevin McKidd.) Surprisingly, Spud doesn’t look too bad; it’s Sick Boy who looks worse for wear. In any event, I’m excited to see how they’ve managed to survive these past twenty years.
We have no idea what Trainspotting 2 is going to be about, or how good it’s going to be; everything from this point forward is speculation. On-set reports indicate that some crime element is involved in the story, which is no real surprise given the nature of the characters. More interesting is the rumor that Kelly Macdonald has been spotted, so hopefully Diane will make a substantial appearance (Just please don’t make Diane and Renton married with children for the love of God). Apparently, novelist Irvine Welsh is also returning, reprising his role as the shifty Mikey Forrester. Mother Superior (the great Peter Mullan) meets a tragic fate at the book’s end, but it’s entirely possible that his cinematic incarnation is still with us. I’d also love to see the return of the majestic Shirley Henderson as Spud’s long-suffering girlfriend Gail but here’s to hoping.
The original plan was to adapt Porno, Irvine Welsh’s novel that takes place ten years after the events of Trainspotting. According to director Danny Boyle, however, the script is essentially an original story from screenwriter John Hodge with some input from Welsh. Welsh’s involvement, in particular, should alleviate the worries of the more skeptical Trainspotting fans. Moreover, the original team has gotten back together for this. Danny Boyle, John Hodge, and producer Andrew Macdonald — the trio behind Trainspotting as well as the underrated Shallow Grave — are working together again for the first time since 1997’s A Life Less Ordinary. Even Ewan McGregor, the long-standing hold-out due to his notorious falling-out with Boyle over The Beach — frankly, Ewan, you dodged a bullet — adores Hodge’s screenplay. McGregor would never have signed on unless he was happy with the material. When has Ewan McGregor ever appeared in a film solely for the money?
What makes me happiest is the shot itself. This shot may purely be promotional — maybe it’s not in the film at all — but it hopefully confirms what Danny Boyle has been assuring Trainspotting fans for years: This will NOT be an attempt to outdo the original. Fans will remember that exact same shot from the original, but look how tired and burnt-out these characters are by comparison. Even after each character is branded according to that genuinely brilliant anti-Hollywood marketing campaign of yore, there is no attempt to pretend that these are still the same virile and vigorous functioning junkies of the past–often a failure of sequels to celebrated films that come out several years after the original. It’s impossible for Trainspotting 2 to be as good as the first movie, and it’s reassuring to know that this unachievable goal isn’t even the aim of the filmmakers.
When I first saw Trainspotting, I was probably too young to be watching it–thirteen, as I recall. The pill-popping and martini-slugging adults in my neoliberal hometown were shocked. All teenagers are attracted to art that their elders fear, and where I grew up, Trainspotting was branded as pro-heroin propaganda. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Trainspotting glamorizes heroin just as much as GoodFellas glamorizes gangsterism and Boogie Nights glamorizes the dark side of porn. Those who advocate the ever-failing, white supremacist war on drugs found a convenient scare story in Trainspotting. But unlike the films to which it’s regularly compared such as Darren Aronofsky’s excellent Requiem For A Dream, Trainspotting is not an anti-drug dirge. It is an honest and energetic depiction of five childhood friends who gradually drift further and further apart. For once, “junkies” — outsiders I could relate to regardless of their drug of choice — were treated like human beings.
Trainspotting stands proudly alongside those few films such as Fargo and Brazil that shaped who I am as a cinephile. They influence the screenplays I write each year, hoping that one day I’ll finally write something worth raising the money to make it. It’s the reason I will love Danny Boyle until the day I die (even though I still can’t bring myself to rent Steve Jobsl.) It’s one of the reasons I’m clinging to hope as I trudge through this miserable year.
A quick and possibly unreliable Google search yields the alleged fact that nearly 15 million Americans find themselves treading the deep, murky waters of depression. I am one of those Americans. This is the first time I’ve admitted it publicly and I’ve only acknowledged this unfortunate reality to myself within the past few weeks.
“I am a victim of my own moods,” to quote the great Stephen Fry. It has taken me far too long to come to terms with the fact that depression and anxiety are two conditions I’ve been living with my entire life, and that these two conditions have directly impacted every relationship that has ever been important to me. As far back as I can remember, I have been afflicted by suicidal thoughts, and I’ll even go as far as to admit that I nearly attempted it about a week ago (I’m doing okay, before you ask.)
I say this not to “get real” with my faithful readers but to emphasize an important point. The world is a depressing place as it is, and if you’re one of the millions of human beings who wish that anxiety and depression were masochistic crash-test dummies that we could smash into oblivion with a shovel, you’re not alone. While it’s important to continue speaking out and staying informed about what a vile world we live in, I feel it’s just as important to occasionally tune out of the negativity of social media and give oneself over to great art, whatever that means for you. Escaping is fine. Life would be unbearable without the option for a brief exit into art.
Back in July 2012, four years ago when I thought I wasn’t even going to make it out of that year alive, I found myself in Oxford, England, watching Danny Boyle’s masterful, subversive Olympics Opening Ceremony. I had no money, I had no phone, and I had no future to look forward to. After an unsuccessful attempt to drink myself to death, here I was witnessing yet another one of Danny Boyle’s works of brutal optimism: a tangible sense of relief that always feels earned after his underdog characters — such as Slumdog Millionaire’s Jamal, 28 Days Later’s Jim, Millions’ Damian, and Trainspotting’s Renton — put themselves through the wringer in order simply to survive. He truly believes in people. He’s a Joe Strummer for cinema, a spewing-mad punk with the heart of a hippie. And when I watched his vision of a united world in that admittedly corporate opening ceremony, I knew I could make it back to the United States in one piece. I knew I could rebuild my life to some extent. I knew I could keep on living. And I have, and I will.
Trainspotting 2 does not need to be a masterpiece; it just needs not to be terrible (see also The Man Who Killed Don Quixote). And if it is awful, we’ll continue to cherish the original while we pretend that the sequel never happened (see also Blues Brothers 2000). Of course, I now understand that my depression will never go away and that no film is ever going to change this fact; this affliction is something I will have to keep fighting it for the rest of my life.
On February 10, 2017, I’ll sit down in a cinema and meet up with four old friends whom I haven’t seen in far too long. I grinned like an idiot seeing my favorite Edinburgh four-piece on that train station platform, and I’m sure I’ll be grinning like a numbskull from beginning to end when I finally sit down to see the finished product. Does that make me a hypocrite? Fine. We cinephiles take cinema too seriously anyway.
Don’t let some cranky bastard like me affect your opinion on the latest blockbuster; there’s plenty of we cynics online, anyway, and don’t take our comic rage personally. Yes, I am just as bad as the film nerds I’m always mocking for overhyping a film into oblivion, and I can easily live with that. I may have lost my faith in ninety-nine percent of humanity, but I will never lose my faith in art. And neither should you. Keep on loving the art that keeps you alive and never apologize for it. Renton, Begbie, Sick Boy, Spud, Diane, Mother Superior, Boyle, Hodge, Macdonald, and probably Underworld: welcome back.
And thank you.
Oh, who am I kidding? It’s going to be worse than Trance, isn’t it?