The 20-year hiatus between the creation of “Trainspotting” and its sequel left some questions about the viability of a follow-up storyline about the misadventures of a group of Scottish heroin addicts. Director Danny Boyle’s numerous attempts to put together a sequel were foiled by cast apprehensions toward a second film, successive failed attempts to create a viable script and a decade-long falling out between the original film’s lead actor, Ewan McGregor, and Boyle. Despite the skepticism surrounding “T2 Trainspotting,” the film proves a worthy sequel to the original cult classic.
Beginning 20 years after the events of the first film, the sequel’s major thematic elements differ from the original. Whereas the first “Trainspotting” was a story of escapism, youthful angst and addiction, its sequel explores the consequences of hedonism, the search for redemption and the strong allure of nostalgia. Nostalgia is the driving force for the characters as their present lives offer them no approximation to the high they got from heroin. Spud, played by Ewen Bremner, has a frayed relationship with his wife and child due to his addiction. Renton, played by Ewan McGregor, is seeking closure with his friends after he absconded with $16,000 they all received in a drug deal. Begbie, played by Robert Carlyle, grapples with questions of fatherhood in the face of his imprisonment. Sick Boy, played by Jonny Lee Miller, hopelessly seeks fulfillment in a sham romance with a Bulgarian prostitute.
Reminiscing on their past seems easier than looking at the bleak prospects of their future. Their ambivalence toward any form of responsibility 20 years prior has left them with little to call their own. In spite of this seemingly dour context, “T2 Trainspotting” maintains the comedic element of the first film with countless memorable performances, both through the visceral physical changes they undergo and complex mental neuroses. Sick Boy and Spud expertly embody the unique mental processes of addicts with their lack of inhibitions and the warping physical effects of years of narcotics use.
However, their addictions are not the sole distinguishing characteristic of these performances, for these two actors explore the anguish and personal pain of their characters, albeit with a good amount of comic relief. Begbie returns as Begbie and captures the viewer’s attention not only with his verbal incoherence and manic violent nature, but also with an exploration of the character’s complex family life. McGregor returns to the role of Renton with the same charisma and complexity that captivated audiences in the first film. Although the comedic highs stemming from his performance in the sequel are not equal to those of the first film, he charts a new course for the character centered on disillusionment and redemption. While seamlessly returning to their iconic roles, the cast provides new and entertaining perspectives on their characters’ mental states and personas.
Scotland offers more than just a scenic backdrop for the plot developments of the film. With relatively new developments in the region, from deindustrialization to British modernization, Edinburgh plays as significant a role in shaping the narrative as the characters. The Scottish experience of urban blight and deindustrialization affected the life opportunities available to the characters. While the urban landscape is punctuated by some notable modern developments and encroaching gentrification, the overall barren state of the city partly explains the characters’ drives for escapism through narcotics. This urban decay is contrasted with the scenic beauty of the Scottish Lowlands. The tale of Renton’s 20-year abstinence from heroin runs parallel to the awe-inspiring panoramic views from Holyrood Park, in stark contrast with the dilapidated housing projects across Edinburgh.
The long-standing cinematographic partnership between Boyle and Anthony Dod Mantle surfaces throughout the course of “T2 Trainspotting.” The past innovations in cinematography pushed by Boyle and Mantle culminated in an Oscar win for their work on “Slumdog Millionaire.” This boundary-pushing camerawork continues in the “Trainspotting” sequel with handheld cameras capturing unique, genuine moments imperceptible in traditional film mediums. Although Boyle opted for a digital medium in this sequel, there are several profoundly surreal moments captured by Mantle’s camerawork, particularly in a scene where several of the characters revert to using heroin in an abandoned apartment block. The cinematography of this piece is a testament not only to Mantle’s keen eye, but also to the chemistry between him and the editing staff.
“T2 Trainspotting” explores new grounds of a familiar subject, offering an interesting viewpoint on the effects of addiction while captivating audiences with layered characters delivered by a gifted cast. Boyle’s ability to make such heavy subjects accessible speaks to the strength not only of the source material written by Irvine Welsh, but also to Boyle’s directing prowess. The film effectively intertwines the thematic elements of nostalgia and redemption with the characters’ personal narratives, creating a compelling overall plot arc. In all, the film is a worthy successor to the original film and should satisfy most fans of Boyle’s cult classic.
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