Review: T2 Trainspotting (2017)


T2 Trainspotting is a compellingly sobering follow-up to the much revered 1996 film. If its predecessor was the equivalent of a potently furious punk anthem than the 2017 release is akin to a melancholic and reflective Jazz Blues song with improvisational moments that feature an energetic, youthful zeal. The grim spectre of the past permeates the picture as moments from the original are mesmerizingly recalled in a visually dynamic manner. For example, early in the film when Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) is conversing with his father and asking about his mother; there is a subtle silhouette of his long dead maternal figure in the empty spot at the kitchen table- where she would have been sitting.

The most vivid instances of the bygone days being visually conveyed come in the third act. There is a scene when Daniel “Spud” Murphy (Ewen Bremner) recalls the opening scene from Trainspotting as he looks upon an empty street. The small moment illustrates the significant meaning that people attach to seemingly familiar and mundane places.

Moreover, in the third act, Spud recalls an emotional memory involving Francis “Franco” Begbie (Robert Carlyle) that provides the title of both films with meaning and perspective. As the former is expounding upon the event, the memory is visually shown on the wall and is engulfed with a darkly blue tint that makes the moment feel like an immediate and surreal dream while simultaneously looking like a twisted Norman Rockwell painting.

And in the last scene, director Danny Boyle seamlessly blends past and present as the moment when young Renton is getting high in his room is juxtaposed with the present day character dancing to Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life. Soon after, the space between Renton and his bedroom seems to stretch to infinity. The effect is Boyle’s visceral surrealism taking on a new-found maturation.

The prevailing sombre sensibility of the film imbues its characters with a compelling weight. Instead of being exotic asides that punctuated Renton’s drug-laden odyssey in the original; the supporting players of T2 are interestingly drawn human beings who are weighed down by the decaying nature of time. Simon “Sick Boy” Williamson (Johnny Lee Miller) has become disenchanted and bitter since the last time he has seen his best friend. Begbie’s volatile disposition has increased because of his twenty-year incarceration. And in the most engaging side plot of the picture, Spud channels his rock-bottom existence by embracing the past through the written word.

While McGregor dominated the last film like a sweeping hurricane, Carlyle is the acting tidal wave of T2, delivering a wonderfully moving and nuanced performance. Carlyle retains Begbie’s violent live wire nature, but it is his more quiet and reflective moments that cast an impression. Two scenes particularly impress.

The first is a scene when the hardened criminal returns to his family home to say goodbye. At this moment, Carlyle imbues Begbie with an astute and calm demeanour with his vocals and facial expressions. There is also a sense of profound regret that comes from Carlyle shaky delivery mainly evident when talking to Frank Jnr. (Scot Greenan) The scene is a harrowing and touching confession as the character acknowledges his shortcomings and lack of opportunity which will be redeemed by his son; who he states will be a better man than could ever hope to be.

The second is a moment in the tail end of the picture. At the height of Begbie’s hostile and murderous state, Renton calmly reminds his close friend about the first time they met in school. He recalls how Begbie was an older protective figure who would always make him feel safe. Carlye’s facial expressions in the midst of Renton’s plea for mercy is tear-inducing as the audience get a glimpse of the boy who once watched over Renton. At the same time, Carlye contrasts this with his desire for revenge, which is conveyed in the actors’ intensely animalistic eyes. The moment is a microcosm for the sequel in general; it refuses to get rid of its ingrained attributes despite possessing a self-awareness of the effect of two decades on its black comic heart.

About Sartaj Govind Singh

Notes from a distant observer: “Sartaj is a very eccentric fellow with a penchant for hats. He likes watching films and writes about them in great analytical detail. He has an MA degree in Philosophy and has been known to wear Mickey Mouse ears on his birthday.”
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