The Trainspotting of ’96 was made in that allegedly esoteric Britpop era of New Labour, swaggering Gallaghers, and unshackled chemical exploration, when the last honking remnants of Thatcher’s Britain (or Major’s) were ebbing away; a new cultural discourse on the horizon, things could only get better. I read an article (somewhere) a few weeks ago that pondered whether Trainspotting was a product of that alchemist epoch or actually created it. It’s a movie synced to its time, yet it doesn’t feel dated. Boyle’s expressionist, almost magical realist style – Gabriel García Márquez meets ’80s Edinburgh – is without gimmicks. Every tour de force shot or bravura sequence has a purpose, serving to express his characters’ experience of heroin and hedonism.
The sequel is strong. It nails how much both Edinburgh and our sensibilities have mutated over the past two decades. The essentials of modern living have altered – now it’s Facebook and Instagram and not the Compact Disc Player and big fucking televisions. Sensations are less corporeal, more about building a social narrative – it’s surface appearances and their validation that brings happiness, not the materialism of yesteryear. Edinburgh is no longer the destitute hellhole of old but a gentrified cluster of hamlets, with some no-go areas still hanging in there. I was in Niddrie last week and I must confess I experienced ‘The Fear’ – it was like another world, an urban toilet with trolls. Left behind the express train to post-modernity, you’ll never see this ‘non-place’ – as Marc Augé would put it – in a travel guide.
There’s a sadness to proceedings, that these now middle-aged blokes look back on the shite times in a nostalgic sense, like the Ossis did (and still do) the GDR. Spud and Begbie especially wax lyrical about the rough ol’ days as if they were less a perversion and more an idyll. Familiarity doesn’t always breed contempt.
The new film has so much energy, is so visually dynamic, and the characters imbued with so much zest that it can’t be missed. And Francis Begbie is one scary bloke.