A sequel about sequels. Even from the very title (a cheeky reappropriation of the unofficial title of “Terminator 2: Judgement Day”), “T2: Trainspotting” makes it clear that it’s operating at a self-referential, metatextual level, that it’s well-aware of all its own contradictions, and that it’s interested in playing around and examining them, rather than selling them to the audience straight. It isn’t a crowd-pleasing soft-reboot style pseudo-sequel, just an excuse to get the band back together to rake in some sales off a nostalgic audience, instead it’s an examination of what drives people to want to indulge their nostalgic urges like that in the first place. It doesn’t just confront its own characters, but the audience as well. The film itself is the very same crucible that the characters go through within it – the challenge of how to have a healthy relationship with one’s past.
Renton tried to completely divorce himself from his troubled junkie past. Spud tried to move on, but failed. Sick Boy hasn’t moved on, beyond superficial elements. Begbie hasn’t moved on at all. Renton and Spud tried a new song, Sick Boy and Begbie tried the same song, but neither approach led to satisfying music, so to speak. The use of a remix (notably not just a cover) of Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life”, so pivotal to the original film, says it all. Just as the entire film sorts through various memories, visions, flashbacks, visual echos and parallels through the first, a remix “degragments” and rearranges elements of an original piece to move forward and progress, to make something new that still acknowledges, uses, and grows from existing elements of the past. Renewed, rather than replayed.
In many ways, “T2: Trainspotting” is a remix of “Trainspotting” – but it’s not a cover. It evaluates the past, makes peace with it, then moves on. It doesn’t ignore the past, like Renton tried. It doesn’t try to not move on at all, like Begbie and Sick Boy tried. And unlike Spud, who failed in moving on from the past even for his efforts, “T2: Trainspotting” succeeds – in-story, because the characters work together and collectively sort through their remaining feelings on their past, presents, and futures (as well as finally excising the purely destructive things in their lives), and on the level of the film itself, because director Danny Boyle and the cast members (most notably Ewan McGregor, who had publicly feuded with Boyle for considerable time) did likewise.
All this would make for a great film and a thoughtful sequel in any case, but Boyle accomplishes it with such style and flair. There are endless fascinating visual touches, some in service of the original story of the film itself, some in service of conveying the character’s complicated relationships with the past. It’s a real feast for the senses, with another great soundtrack as well. The cast do great work further developing their characters. The only real flaw as I see it with the film is some messy narrative work. I think the film knows exactly what it’s saying thematically, but it sometimes struggles positioning and justifying its characters in plot positions for them to support those ideas. I do particularly love what the film does with Spud though, and the way it offers up storytelling itself as a cathartic way of making peace with the past and moving on in a healthy way. That feels as much an ode to the medium as some of the iconic movie-magic sequences from the first film.
I give “T2: Trainspotting” four and a half Catholics left, and an Iggy Pop remix.