How is it that T2 Trainspotting manages to be both nostalgic for the audience, and for the characters too? Read on to find out…
Choose A Sequel To A Cult Classic, Reminding People Of What They Used To Love
2017’s T2 Trainspotting is the sequel to the 1996 cult hit Trainspotting, which is a beloved piece of Scottish cinema. A black comedy following the lives of 3 heroin addicts and their psychotic friends, the film innovated in its visual and stylistic creativity, as well as its use of a pumping soundtrack to convey the narrative meaningfully.
T2, then, picks up 20 years later, finding these characters (all with their original actors reprising their roles) now middle-aged, and having a crisis. Their days of crime and drugs are over, and the modern world is moving on without them. They need to find their place in this new age before they’re left behind, and grow up… or do they?
Choose Childhood Memories, Lingering On A Time You’ll Never Forget
T2 is many things. It’s loud, bright, noisy, brilliant, crazy, and all other manners of things, but most of all I’d argue it’s nostalgic. I mean, why wouldn’t it be; it’s a legacy sequel to a beloved 90’s film that retains the original cast. However, that is inherently obvious to anyone who has watched the film, and I’m not here to waste your time with the obvious. No, what I’m interested in is how it utilizes that nostalgia.
The most visually apparent way the film utilizes it is through flashbacks. There are two types of flashbacks in this film: footage utilized from the original, and newly shot footage using lookalikes with the same color grading and filming style of the original. The resued shots are often choppily used and never linger, but the new footage often lasts a bit longer, holding onto these brand-new memories.
By doing this, the film achieves something brilliant: it hooks us onto nostalgia for something we have never seen, nor do we remember. It’s easy to bait fans in with reused footage, but by intercutting it with new memories, we are drawn into the nostalgic fantasies if these middle-aged men: their childhood football games, their first hit, none of this was in the first film, but it didn’t need to be, because the characters weren’t thinking about it.
Choose To Be A Tourist In Your Own Youth, Recapturing The Glory Days
Now, these methods of nostalgia may seem like a cheap way to appeal to fans of the original, as is popular in a lot of franchises these days (here’s looking at you, CGI Luke Skywalker) but the genius lies in that this is not intended to appeal to the audience, but instead to craft an emotional link to the character’s state of mind.
The plot follows protagonist Renton as he returns home for the first time in 20 years after having a near-death experience. He revisits his old friends and family, becoming, as his ‘best friend’ Simon puts it: “a tourist in your own youth”. Renton doesn’t understand this new world, so he tries to recreate the world he does, through the people he betrayed and left behind in a past life. He spends his time looking confused at what his home has become, something unfamiliar.
There’s an often criticized scene in the film where, after a successful robbery, Renton and Simon nostalgically reminisce whilst playing with Snapchat filters, giving them funny expressions and cartoonish eyes. Whilst this could be seen as cringey, I perceive it as this: for the first time in a long time, these men have recaptured their youthful antics, and their playing with the childish joys of modern technology is symbolic of them finally feeling comfortable in these new-fangled ways, if only for a moment.
Choose A Banger Soundtrack, One You Know They’ll Love
Another important aspect of the film and its nostalgia-fuelled ecstasy is the music. Ask any Trainspotting fan and they” tell you that the original’s soundtrack is an iconic blast from the past, from the iconic pseudo-theme song ‘Born Slippy’ to the blasting banger ‘Temptation’ from the brilliant club scene, music is key to Trainspotting, and T2 knows this.
The film is very choice in how it approaches music. A lot of it is loud and modern, moving away from the original’s soundtrack, but then when the characters are feeling nostalgic, or looking back on their past, the soundtrack will then follow suit, but a key detail is that the music is never quite the same. It always uses covers or remixes to show that, despite how much we might want them to be, things aren’t quite the same as they used to be. In fact, all the music seems to be loud and thumping, how a middle-aged man angry at the new world would perceive modern music.
A brilliant example of this is the ‘Lust for Life’ record in Renton’s room. The song is used in the opening of the film and is synonymous with it. When he revisits his childhood room, he plays the opening second and then shuts it off, haunted by the sudden blast from the past. However, in the final scene of the film, he gloriously accepts it and starts dancing to it, but the song isn’t the same: it’s a remix. His past and present have become the same, his antics from another life now leaked into his adulthood, left ambiguous as to whether he’ll ever change.
Choose To Read The Memoirs Of One Spud Murphy, And Remember The Bad Times Too
There are a few other scenes I’d like to point out that I feel exemplify the points I’ve made thus far: firstly, returning to the idea of music, in the scene where Renton and Simon return to heroin, they regain consciousness in what is clearly an 80s-theme night in a club. They have, in their own, unhealthy way, traveled back in time, as does Renton in the scene where he has sex with Veronika, Simon’s girlfriend (who is notably younger than the two of them). The song of choice is not another pumping modern piece, but an older song. When these men feel young, so too does the soundtrack, indulging their desires for youth
There is also the scene at the climax of the film, where Renton reminiscences with Begbie on the day they met, just before Begbie is planning to kill him. The two men, just for a moment, become kids again, digitally transforming into their youthful selves. We never saw the characters as kids in the first film, but it’s a reoccurring theme in this one, once again clutching onto the days when they were youthful and innocent.
Lastly, there are Spud Murphy’s stories. The film follows Spud’s attempt to heal from his addiction and, following a suicide attempt, this attempt is sent into overdrive. He finds his joy in writing stories from the character’s youth, but unlike the others, he doesn’t sugarcoat it; he covers everything. The good times, the bad times, Spud is the honest reminder that the past is never as perfect as we remember it.
Choose To Make One Last Point On A Film You Love
Trainspotting was, at its core, a story about the destructive nature of drug use, on both the people who use it and those around them. Whilst there is obviously a lot more to it than that, that is the simplified essence of the film. Whilst there is, obviously, drug use in T2, the real drug in T2 is, of course, nostalgia.
Whilst Star Wars and Marvel continue to bank shamelessly on nostalgia, Danny Boyle instead chose to make a story about it, crafting a legacy sequel that is both an indulgence of the past, and a critique of it. It uses all the techniques I’ve discussed to create the same mindset and feelings for the audience that the characters are experiencing.
In all honesty, T2 could never stand as its own film. It is messy, ridiculously fast-paced, and overstuffed. But it was never designed to be its own film, this is an epilogue that banks on the audience’s connection to these characters and their past, and judging an epilogue on whether it can shtand alone or not would be quite ridiculoush, don’t you think, Mish Moneypenny?