Review: Trainspotting 2 by Gina Maya

Gina Maya is a Welsh writer and trans activist, currently studying for her PhD in Transgender Narratives in Popular Culture at Edinburgh University. As well as being a nostalgist for 1980s American football, she loves movies and writes about her experiences in Edinburgh’s cinemas.

This review contains spoilers for Trainspotting 2.


 

Trainspotting 2 (T2) at the Cameo Cinema

 

The screening rooms for T2 continue to be full in Edinburgh. Is it the shots of the city that make this more than just a film, as if we’re almost in the story? The protagonists on Arthur’s Seat, reflecting on life the way we do; the bar fight in a run-down pub, a reminder of another side to this gentrified student city that many of us never see. This feeling of familiarity might be the closest some of us ever come to being in a movie, and if this sounds melancholic, it’s a perfect place to talk about the film.

T2 is a story about men. Jaded, frustrated and just a little anxious with a fifth decade of life looming without achievement, fame or money, or even a settled family life or career. I did think about Fight Club (1999), and the men who make up the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world. Here, though, in T2, we have a poignant potential for friendship and hope to accompany the threat of violence that wafts through the film from time to time.

We also have betrayal, the one that ended the original Trainspotting in 1996. It lies at the heart of the sequel as Ewan McGregor’s Renton returns from the Netherlands, twenty years on from his theft of his friends’ drug money, to confront the past, and with it three former friends nursing grievances to different degrees. Logically, they should hate him, and predictably, the psycho of the group, Begbie, summons rage that can only be sated by Renton’s brutal death. That, then, is the main plot, but T2 is about much more than the obvious cause-and-effect. In fact this is a film in which three of the four forty-something men face up to the emptiness of their lives, and the friendships that might give them salvation.

Ultimately, then, the extremities of that first Trainspotting, with its drug- and alcohol-fuelled surrealism and violence, is replaced by pastel shades. If the 1996 movie features the dehumanizing of a gang of men via different substances, T2 is the gradual reversion to humanity. Even the obnoxious Begbie has his moment towards the end, a brief understanding of his flawed masculinity. Of the others, the character Spud enjoys some of the film’s tenderest scenes. We get glimpses of his sensitive, perceptive nature, the driving force behind a desire to commit suicide early on, in awareness of the shame he causes his wife and son. We get his rescue at the crucial point by Renton, back from Amsterdam. Spud, of course, forgives him as is his nature. The other, more complex friendship concerns Renton and his one-time best-friend ‘Sick Boy’ Simon. The film dabs our screens with childhood photos of Renton and Sick Boy in their football tops, with the world at their feet. The film returns us there, full-circle, to the denouement.

For all the references to the past, though, T2 is not sentimental; beyond Begbie’s violence, more comedic than horrific in this sequel, I found this a moving and even uplifting depiction of middle-age men who manage to confront their underwhelming lives and find their own personal redemption.


You can follow Gina’s reviews, as well as her weekly diary posts on her transitioning, at her website: www.ginamaya.co.uk.