Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Reserved Seating: T2 Trainspotting

by Rob DiCristino and Adam Riske
Gotta lust

Rob: Welcome to Reserved Seating. I’m Rob DiCristino.

Adam: And I’m Adam Riske. On today’s episode, Rob & I return to Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting saga with T2 Trainspotting. The film catches up with the characters from 1996’s cult hit Trainspotting twenty years later, with Mark (Ewan McGregor) seeking redemption and returning to his native Scotland hoping to reconcile with Spud (Ewen Bremner) and Sick Boy (Johnny Lee Miller) while hoping to avoid the dangerous Begbie (Robert Carlyle), who is hell-bent on getting revenge for the events of the first Trainspotting. In this clip, Mark has a heart to heart with Spud about the nature of addiction and what he’s done to wean himself off of drugs over the years:

It’s a nice scene that exemplifies a recurring theme throughout the movie, which is that it’s better to take steps to improve your future than to try making up for the past.

Rob: It also illustrates the way Mark Renton has been lying to himself about The Clean Life for twenty years. As we soon find out, he’s not nearly as well-adjusted as he would have us believe. None of the boys are. While a lot of “twenty-years-later-nostalgia-trip” sequels feel cynical and cheap, coyly repeating the beats of the first film, T2 Trainspotting has something real and earnest to say, something that only makes sense after a significant time jump. Returning to this world felt like finishing a book I’d started reading a long time ago and never finished. I enjoyed this film quite a bit.

Adam: Rob, the best to way to avoid never finishing a book is to never start one. That aside, it certainly has become fashionable in the past few years to revisit long-dormant films and their characters. I agree with you that T2 Trainspotting is one of the better examples as much for what it says about the talent involved as it does the characters. Director Danny Boyle has gone from the hot up-and-comer to fading auteur to a comeback to Oscars, etc., and T2 Trainspotting is interesting because when viewing it against the original (which I revisited the same day I saw the sequel) it shows that he’s more interested in the characters on an emotional level and less interested in being hip than I think he was earlier in his career. It also is interesting to see his directorial style, which was once groundbreaking has been so co-opted over the years that it now feels more commonplace. Ewan McGregor has gone from a budding star to more of a journeyman actor, which sort of fits nicely with his character. I don’t think the sequel is nearly as good as the original (which has held up very well and was special and fresh in a way that is difficult to replicate), but the sequel is more than worthwhile and consistently entertaining.
Rob: I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t have time to re-watch the original before seeing T2. I’m sure you’re right about the sequel’s relative quality, but I can’t help but feeling like the two films almost need each other to tell the whole story. T2 makes a point to invoke the first film many times because it’s so interested in putting those events into a new context, which I think is the right approach for a sequel to a film like Trainspotting. I loved the way it kept withholding “Lust for Life” from us until it felt absolutely right. I loved the way Spud kept visualizing familiar moments through a darker and more tragic lens than we did the first time around. It was a great way to show the boys reflecting on the choices they’d made and trying to cope with them.

Adam: I first want to say I like T2 Trainspotting and it will get a Mark Ahn from me. But I enjoyed it on a more surface level than I think you did. Much of this has to do with the first film. A problem I’ve always had with these movies (and again, I think they’re both worth your time) is that the characters don’t deal with their actions. I think the first movie is a bit more honest about that. (SPOILER FOR THE ORIGINAL TRAINSPOTTING) In the first film, Mark runs off to Amsterdam and evades responsibility in order to forget/forgive his past and I think that’s so much more honest than the pseudo-mea culpa he has in T2 Trainspotting. He barely ever acknowledges that he’s very responsible for Tommy’s death in the first movie (he stole the sex tape which led to Tommy’s girlfriend leaving him, which led to his heroin addiction and death) and they sort of gloss that over in the sequel. Also, Sick Boy is partly responsible for an infant dying in the original film and they don’t really dig into that except on a surface level in T2, either. I think the first movie is a lot more honest about being a depiction of bad people, whereas the sequel wants you to feel they’re just flawed. I can’t get on board with that as a viewer. I honestly don’t think Mark and Sick Boy deserve redemption. Is that my baggage? Should the filmmakers be more moral? I’m not sure.

Rob: I think I understand what you’re feeling here, but I have to say I liked the film’s lack of moral certainty. I think that’s what Trainspotting is about, to an extent, that we’re all looking for meaning and absolution but never finding it (or finding it in the wrong things). If there were sure things -- if Choosing Life always worked out -- then there’d be no reason not to do the right thing all the time. I think T2 approaches these characters at such a remove from the doing the terrible things you mentioned that it almost doesn’t matter if some external force punishes them. Life has punished them, and I think T2 examines how they’ve coped with it. That’s why I loved that Spud was our protagonist this time around. He’s an addict, a terrible screw-up, a lousy father, and he’ll always be those things, but writing down his misadventures gives him and the others a kind of catharsis that they haven’t found anywhere else. I don’t think Renton and Sick Boy deserve redemption either, but I think Boyle might be saying that if that’s the case, none of us do.
Adam: You raise some interesting points. I don’t agree with some of them, but they’re insightful. The pivot to this really being Spud’s story I think is sort of’s not for me. It feels like Lord of the Rings, when suddenly it’s Sam’s story. I mean, sure, but really? Was it really? I found it interesting that Spud became addicted to writing his memoir of sorts (which I read is all original text from the novel Trainspotting) because it’s commenting on nostalgia, which the movie has a lot to say about. The movie acknowledges that nostalgia is like a drug. It keeps us standing still by looking backward though it provides a temporary sense of happiness. I walked out of T2 Trainspotting thinking about nostalgia more than I usually do and how imbibing on it too much is destructive, just like drugs are in a literal sense. What did you think of the character Veronika, Simon’s sort-of girlfriend? I think she is a mixed bag. She provides an interesting counterpoint but I don’t think she registers as much as some of the female characters in the first movie. I would have rather they spent more time catching up with Kelly Macdonald’s character, who only has one brief scene and, in my opinion, the movie’s funniest line of dialogue.

Rob: First I’ll say that I loved what T2 did with nostalgia, both textually and meta-textually. There’s that great reprise of the “Choose Life” speech that Renton has updated for 2017 -- “Choose Facebook,” and all that. But then he tells Veronika, “It amused us back then.” They were all piss and vinegar and still ended up as broken as anyone else because you can’t simply rebel and ever hope to develop. She’s got that great bit of dialogue where she refers to Renton and Simon as visitors in their own memories (I’m paraphrasing). Through her eyes, we see their arrested development much clearer. I like that she was there to serve that purpose (and eventually make choices of her own in the film’s climax), and I’m not 100% what kind of meaningful contrast Kelly Macdonald’s character would have provided.

Adam: The contrast would have been that she became a contributor to society and grew up into an adult. That’s more what I was going for when I asked for more Kelly Macdonald. I guess the hipper choice of casting was Veronika. So, long story short, this is a movie I like but have quite a few problems with.

Rob: Definitely not disagreeing with you in terms of wanting more Kelly Macdonald. For me, though, seeing a young person on the precipice of a lifetime of bad decisions learn how not to make them seems more thematically valuable than the Diane character wagging a finger at the boys for not saving the Queen or whatever the hell it is British people do. Still, maybe the script had room for both?

Real quick, what did you think of the way this film was shot? I loved the style that Boyle brought to this one, especially when contrasted with something slower-paced like Steve Jobs (which I liked for very different reasons). It had the flair and energy of the original film with the discipline of an older, more experienced director. He never shoots anything from a predictable angle. He goes out of his way to avoid coverage and conventional editing techniques and yet we rarely lose our sense of geography. That’s hard to get right.
Adam: All I want in any movie is finger wagging about not saving the Queen. As for Boyle, I mentioned earlier (sorry for repeating) that I think he used to be mostly style and now he’s style with some maturity. I didn’t think anything he did in T2 Trainspotting was breaking new ground necessarily, but it’s a well-directed movie. I do think he’s easy to take for granted, though. When I see a Danny Boyle movie, I think “Yeah, that’s Danny Boyle Danny Boyling it.” Steve Jobs was an exception for me, because it felt much more like an Aaron Sorkin movie than a Danny Boyle movie. It’s like Boyle knew he would best serve the movie by getting out of the way of the script and the performances. I like Boyle as a director, but I’m at the point where I know what he is and am not impressed more than I used to be by a new work of his. I’m a bad reviewer and a terrible person is what I’m trying to say. He’s “Jai Ho” and will always be “Jai Ho”.

Rob: We ARE good, Adam. And you’re good, too. A good reviewer and a good person. Danny Boyle would like you if he met you. So we’re Mark Ahning this one?

Adam: Yeah, despite my complaints I do think T2 Trainspotting is among the better movies in theaters right now. What are we reviewing next week?

Rob: It’s your pick, right?

Adam: Oh, yeah, it is. We’re reviewing the anime hit Your Name, which was the highest grossing movie of 2016 in Japan. I’m always pretending I like anime more than I do so I’d like to continue that fa├žade.

Rob: Until next time…

Adam: These seats are reserved.


  1. I just sat through Split and this film kind of made me ask a lot of the same questions. Like why are we revisiting this now? The movie was condemning nostalgia while at the same time hinging so much on it.

    1. why are we revisiting it now? to me the answer is simple. it's all part of that trend of rebooting/sequeling/remaking old movies/franchises.

  2. I really enjoyed this movie, but I'm also a huge fan of almost all Danny Boyle's movies. In fact I'd largely disagree that he started off being mostly style. I've always appreciated that he's a guy who rarely works in the same genre twice. In fact to somewhat dismiss the reason for Boyle doing this movie as being a part of a trend of reboots/sequels/remakes like kunider does above ignores the fact that only now, 20 years after his first feature film has Boyle revisited one of his previous movies.

    In fact, one of the things I like about T2: Trainspotting (while never get used to that title) is that it only really works if you have 20 years of built-up affection for the movies and the characters. The point of the movie isn't so much "see what wacky antics these guys are up to 20 years later" it's "see who these guys are 20 years later". It's not really about Begbie breaking out of prison at coincidentally the same time that Mark returns home for the first time in two decades. It's about how the characters deal with where their lives have ended up which is at least somewhat relatable even for those of us who aren't sociopaths or heroin addicts.

    There's moral ambiguity because there's moral ambiguity in life. There's is no single point in life where you redeem yourself for bad things you've done or where karmic justice takes its toll. A lot of people who were kinda shitty 20 years ago are still kinda shitty now. That we care at all about these guys despite their actions is largely due to the talent of the actors involved.

  3. Ooh! Your Name next week. I'm having flashbacks of that thing Patrick said about Ebert giving 2 1/2 stars to 1989 Batman, and am now tentatively looking forward to next week's column. What I'm saying is you guys are my Siskel and Ebert. I look forward to the discussion next week!