A nostalgia trip too far. That’s what many are saying about T2 Trainspotting, which arrives at cinemas today, with the original cast all in tow. There may be a growing chorus of criticism, but I can't say I care. The long-awaited sequel is the most hotly anticipated movie of the year – well, assuming you’re like me, neither millennial nor baby boomer, but somewhere in between.
I was 21 when the original Trainspotting arrived in 1996 – this low-budget indie flick, about a hapless gang of Scottish junkies and rogues, which would become a decade-defining cultural phenomenon. Directed by Danny Boyle and based on the novel by Irvine Welsh, it followed the misfortunes of Renton (Ewan McGregor, in skinny jeans back when they were hideous, rather than hip), Sick Boy (the beautiful, baby-faced Jonny Lee Miller, who’d go on to marry Angelina Jolie), Spud (Ewen Bremner) and everybody’s favourite psychopath, Begbie (Robert Carlyle).
Two decades on, and I’ve chosen life, chosen a job and chosen to do DIY, wondering who the fuck I am, on a Sunday morning. I’m guessing you probably have, too. But, like almost everyone else I know of a similar age, I’m jonesing to see the sequel. As for the nostalgia, it does indeed sound like it’s laid on with a trowel, with Sick Boy talking about being “a tourist in your own youth”. But isn’t that the very point? A two-hour cinematic wallow, wearing our rose-tinted specs? Bring it on.
And yet, despite all its faults and its nihilism, we absolutely lapped it up. It was fresh, it was funny and it spoke to our generation. And we too were teetering on the precipice of adulthood and that fine line between terror and excitement
I want to know how Renton’s return to Edinburgh pans out (we last saw him running away after stealing the others’ money). I want see how much the actors have aged – or not. Boyle has said one of the reasons the sequel took so long is that his leading men, with their Hollywood beauty and fitness regimes, looked too youthful. I want to see if I still get that same joyful rush and endorphin spike when the opening credits roll.
What were you up to in 96? Forgive me for channelling Uncle Albert droning on about the war, but it’s been something I’ve been pondering this week. It was a pivotal year for me: giddy, hedonistic, pulsating with optimism and basslines. I turned 21. I graduated. I applied to journalism college, dreaming of editing Rolling Stone magazine. That summer, we moved our TV into the garden and lived on Euro 96 and lager, lager, lager. We scoffed at the phrase Cool Britannia (so cheesy), but loved its soundtrack – Britpop, techno, drum ’n’ bass.
And then, of course, there was Trainspotting. It’s interesting that we have such affection for it because, on paper, it’s pretty grim – and I don’t just mean the diarrhoea-based storylines. Begbie is an unremitting lunatic, glassing anyone who looks at him funny. Renton is willing to throw away lifelong friendships to rip off the others for a few grand. They’re such horrifically selfish junkies that, when a baby dies in their midst, no one even notices. None of the female characters have much to do.
And yet, despite all its faults and its nihilism, we absolutely lapped it up. It was fresh, it was funny and it spoke to our generation – OK, we didn’t take heroin, but we understood the lure of hedonism. And we too were teetering on the precipice of adulthood and that fine line between terror and excitement. The bright orange cast poster wallpapered a million student bedroom walls (like Kelly Macdonald in that shot, I spent much of that year in a silver spaghetti-strap slip dress). The irresistible soundtrack, stuffed with bangers – from Iggy Pop’s Lust For Life to Underworld’s Born Slippy – blared from a million car stereos. I didn’t have any inkling that, 20 years later, I’d be writing about what a pop cultural landmark it was. We were too busy enjoying ourselves.
As for T2 Trainspotting, this time round I’ll have to book a babysitter so I can go to the cinema. I’ll be too tired to stay up all night afterwards, drinking, smoking, debating the tunes and plotlines. I’m not sure I can stomach Begbie’s violence these days. And I’ve also heard that Kelly Macdonald’s and Shirley Henderson’s already reed-thin “girlfriend of” parts are even more slight in T2.
But, still. As for the charges of nostalgia, I don’t understand why that’s deployed as an insult – a shorthand for being uncreative, lazy, sentimental. I see nostalgia as a cockles-warming, welcome diversion from today’s fears and responsibilities, but also an aid to joining the dots between past and present. That way we better understand how we came to be the people we are today. Nostalgia also gives us perspective – we might feel life isn’t amazing right now, but maybe we’ll think differently, when we glance back on today 20 years hence.
So, while I appreciate that T2 Trainspotting probably won’t be a patch on the original and that it’ll make me wistful for my dearly departed youth (I know I can’t get away with that skimpy silver dress ever again), I’m OK with that. Now, children, who wants to hear some cool stories about the 90s?