Film sequels are like heroin addictions: we all know that they’re terrible, and yet some people still let them happen. I immediately didn’t like the idea of T2 Trainspotting when I heard about it. I even considered abstaining from seeing it. But my memory of Trainspotting (1996) was so sweet, I just couldn’t resist the temptation of T2.
The original Trainspotting centres around four friends living in Edinburgh, bound tightly together by their shared situation as heroin addicts. The film is extremely dark and ugly. But the one modicum of beauty is in the intimacy between the friends because of their understanding of each other’s suffering. Its romanticized cynicism and unrelenting depiction of obscenity made it an instant cult classic.
To my surprise, Danny Boyle made a pretty good sequel. T2 is set 20 years after Trainspotting. The four main characters are still stuck in the rut of their past — and thank goodness for that! I mean, it would have been the worst if they had turned their lives around in some fluffy Hollywood ending. Trainspotting was just so bleak, it wouldn’t have been right if things had eventually worked out.
At the start of the film, we quickly learn that one of the friends, Spud, is still using heroin, which has led to him divorcing his wife and losing custody of his child. Mark returns from Amsterdam, having run away from a failed marriage and career. Simon is extorting wealthy men for money, and Begbie, having been in jail for the last 20 years, escapes and comes home to a teenage son he’s never met.
In Trainspotting, Mark ends up betraying the rest of his friends during a drug deal, stealing all their money. During that part of the film are the following lines: “First there was an opportunity, then there was a betrayal.” And then again, near the beginning of T2 these lines are echoed. And in T2 there is another betrayal. But this time it’s orchestrated by Simon and Begbie, hungry for revenge against Mark. It’s essentially a repeat of the last movie.
Well, what did we expect? That they’d all miraculously become sober and moral? Leave their dark history in the past? Someone once told me, “There’s no such thing as a recovered addict, an addict is forever in recovery.” Things stick with you: like grudges between friends, crippling addictions, and painful memories. You can’t make a good sequel that drops all the conflict of the original. Realistically, no matter how hard you try, you can’t completely shake the past.
And yet, amidst all the betrayal and bad blood, there is still a deep affection between the friends (except for Begbie who is clearly only into himself). Mark and Simon are hanging out with Simon’s quasi-girlfriend Veronika. She watches them interact and jokes, “You two clearly are in love with each other. You might as well just get naked and fuck each other.”
After 20 years and heaps of painful memories, they are still drawn to each other — hooked. And as bad as the memories that Mark and Simon share are, they are their only memories, and so are the best that they have. Their friendship is an unshakable addiction.