T2 Trainspotting: A Lesson in Choosing Life
It’s easy to forget, while blanketed in the fog of raising multiple young kids, that the happening places that you once frequented are still just as happening.
Case in point: Melbourne’s “Little Italy”, Lygon Street, upon where last night I broke free from the week-night norm – and my quiet little street and suburb – and headed to Cinema Nova to see my first movie in yonks: T2 Trainspotting.
I’d expected the cinema to be a little hectic – tickets are discounted at $9 on Mondays, after all – but I wasn’t expecting the Hogmanay-like crowds of students, young professionals and older couples that also flooded the outdoor restaurant tables, and inside the bars, cafes, ice-cream parlours and pizza shops.
It was a lovely and warm night, but it was also a Monday; wasn’t this the universal quiet-night-in – when young families and young people were equally as boring?
The 8:30pm screening of T2 that I’d rushed to get to was, as it turned out, sold out so I had to settle for the 9:30pm show. But it was hardly a chore, especially for a perennially-chained-to-the-house-dad-of-three, to fill an hour in arguably Melbourne’s most easy-to-spend-an-hour-in spot.
But how to fill the hour?
I really felt like a beer, but I’d been drinking too much of late, and was really trying to make Monday a religiously alcohol-free-day.
I was a little weary after a long day looking after my two youngest, and so a coffee appealed; but I was also lusting after a box of popcorn and large Coke in the cinema; I didn’t want too much caffeine!
So, Readings book store, directly across the road, beckoned. And so in I went. But only after I’d twice restrained myself from checking out the Wolf’s Lair beer garden, and snaffled a take-away latte. Screw the caffeine intake.
So many books and nothing in mind. I lingered at the new-release fiction, scanning a couple of back covers but didn’t take much in. It was weird to be unhurried; like I was walking on air. And the staff: so softly spoken! Everything was so quiet; where were all the toddlers demanding milk and orange juice?
The last time I’d procrastinated like this in a bookstore was back in TDBK (The Days Before Kids), when I was working on my clunky, as-yet-unpublished novel. I used to spend large chunks of time at book stores in my early thirties, and as far back as my late teens. I remember spending a whole day in Waterstones in Edinburgh when I was 21, reading Trainspotting for the first time, having recently seen the grim, jaw-dropping film. Life was a far different beast then as now.
Surely it would be too, I thought, as I crossed the road back to the cinema, for the four antiheroes reprising their roles two decades later in T2?
Not really. It’s obvious in the opening 10 minutes, as the quartet are re-introduced one by one, that although they’re leatherier in the face and fuller in girth, they’re fundamentally the same fuck-ups. They’ve long distanced themselves from the rough-edged margins of society they once straddled, but it’s still quite an achievement that at least one of them hadn’t joined their dear friend Tommy at the great gig in the sky in the 20-odd years since his passing.
What’s that cliché about a leopard never truly shedding its spots?
They’re like the party friends you once thought were brothers – but once the party finished, so did your union.
Many of the scores of now-middle-aged men who embraced the original movie’s “eff you and eff everything” ethos and now find themselves entrenched in their “chosen life” – mortgages, marriages, kids, pay TV, weekend sport, school pick-ups, beers behind the wife’s back (oops, is that just me?) – might find themselves wondering what they ever saw in Rents, Sick Boy, Spud and Begbie, who despite closing in on 50 years apiece, yearn for the glory days of heroin, scheming, thievery, bar fights and betrayal. They’re like the party friends you once thought were brothers, but once the party finished, so did your union.
T2 is, like T1, high-octane, sad, jokey and brittle but as a sensory experience doesn’t hold a candle to the original. Like Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, it’s entertaining, yet a little clumsy; it tries desperately to balance the past and the present – even affording periphery characters such as Diane and Mikey Forrester fleeting but unnecessary air-time – but falls short. Audiences were left stunned by the originality of the original; don’t expect the same emotion-charged experience here. The air of helplessness isn’t as stark; the jokes a little more forced. Drugs are still a constant – cocaine is snorted liberally – but you barely notice, such were the lengths of self-destruction in the original. And the characters seem somehow watered down without the sarcastic, knowing wit of Renton’s narration.
It lacks the menace of T1, too; Begbie’s malevolence is inconsistent; as such, the moment where he and Renton finally come face to face doesn’t leave you on the edge of your seat like it could have. And as if to remind us that the more things change, the more they stay the same, the film is laden with harmonies and synchronicity: Renton being upended by a car and madly laughing at the shocked square behind the wheel; a beyond-horrid toilet; even sections of Welsh’s 1993 novel are used as a wind-up tool. Some of the signature tunes from original’s soundtrack (including “Born Slippy”) are teased.
The self-referencing is deliberate, and many will lap it up, but it’s also why the movie is, on the whole, sort-of forgettable. I can’t help but think that in 10 years, T2 will prove to be little more than a passing mention when the original is canvassed in all-time greatest movie debates.
But as midnight neared and I ventured back out to the now-quiet street, and back to the quiet life laden with the “choose life” clichés that Renton reprises so bombastically in T2, I have it to thank for the realisation that, one month shy of my 40th birthday, I’ve long left behind being a “tourist in my own youth”.