Trainspotting was released in 1996, and certainly then and in the subsequent years I know I watched it quite a few times. On this particular then-15/16-year-old it made an impression.
Hard hitting. Real. Instructive. Tense. Well crafted. Loud. Cool. Brilliant.
Looking back, those are some of the ideas and impressions I have of the film but in the years since the mid-late 90s I don’t think I have seen Trainspotting more than once. Twice, perhaps.
With the sequel pending and a re-watch scheduled, this month I tried but could not really remember much about the original film. I had strong visual impressions of a couple of characters and a handful of key moments but little more than that. Certainly the storyline had become lost to me among those main elements – the music, the clubs, the pain and the drugs. But something else in that film had spoken to me. At the time it had felt so significant, yet whatever magic Trainspotting had over us 90s teens, now, as an adult, grown and changed over again since then, I could no longer grasp it.
In fact many of those original commands that as a young teenager had seemed so old and far away – “Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television. Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers […] Choose your future. Choose life.” – were now a very real part of life (except for my television which is modestly sized at best and the compact disc players which 20+ years on are just about obsolete).
2017. Me. Older. More grounded in life. Sadly aware of the harsh, sick, contradictive and often hard-to-stomach parts of reality that along with the lighter side form life. Real life, which my 16-year-old self had but little exposure to. How would a film that was, in its time, poignant, symbolic and significant, in a real if indefinable way, speak to me 20 years on?
On re-watching I was surprised to discover that I had remembered the story, and far more of it all than I thought. That magic was real; Trainspotting evidently did speak to me back then and leave a much clearer and longer-lasting impression than I thought. In all its grim, gritty, grainy truths, amidst the swearing, the violence and the filth there lurks a wonderful study of human behaviour, relationships and survival, which is just as true of today as it was of then.
There are moments when you laugh. There are moments when you cringe. There are moments when you turn away from the television but even turning away is not enough to banish the horror that is being presented. There is no getting away from it. And should there be? Has the lust for life truly gone? Should we face it anyway?
Those who know me or who have read my blog before will know that I am always dubious of a sequel. Yes, of course, there have been many brilliant sequels over the years. Specific ones. You know which ones are exceptional. There have also been an awful lot more terrible sequels – and re-makes, while we’re on the subject – which should never have been made at all, and I always fear a bad sequel, so the prospect of T2 Trainspotting after all these years rings a few bells, although seeing the original line up still involved and knowing it is in Danny Boyle’s capable hands reassures me no end even if I once again cannot understand the title.
The end of Trainspotting left 90s Renton certainly more hopeful than the beginning found him, although his path was far from easy or clean. Did he grow up to be just like us, with our 9-5s and indexed pensions, getting by, looking ahead to the day we die? I have purposefully avoided any discussion of or spoilers about the sequel – I prefer to make my own first impression – but having today been reminded of how good a film was presented to me in 1996, I look forward, with glee and apprehension, to what the new instalment will bring.
I also look back and I wonder… In another twenty years will I once again be inspired to choose my future and choose life? Will I once again reach back, holding only vague memories, and find much deeper impressions left behind by an inexplicable magic?