Wednesday, April 12, 2017

This Xer goes Trainspotting 20 years later

Went to see "Trainspotting 2" with a couple of friends last night. The original Trainspotting book by Irvine Welsh was one of those few works that grabbed me and became something that influenced my way of looking at the world. I read it while getting my teaching certificate in my mid-20s, and the numerous '80s music references combined with the awesome descriptive writing fit where my mentality was perfectly (well, except I wasn't on heroin). I also read it at a time when I had a tight group of friends in Indy that hung around in the same bars and many of us played hard. And we were sort of an informal family, not unlike what Renton, Sick Boy, Spud and Begbie were 20 years ago.

Trainspotting 2's a good flick, with classic Danny Boyle stylistic stuff, and while it helps to have seen/know the first movie (especially with Boyle's visual allusions to it), it's not a requirement, as the film almost seems like a 2-hour pilot for a new TV series. With that in mind, the plot takes you down some weird alleys that don't always pan out, but the performances are very good, and as long as you don't expect it to be as crazy and to receive the mind-fucking you got in the original movie, you'll probably like it. T2 hits on what it's like to be in your 40s, and that no matter how much you'd like to think you can do the same things and have the same fun mindset you had when you were 24, you can't get back to that mental place, and it gives the movie a sort of melancholy (especially as Renton starts backsliding from middle-class decency, and you realize Sick Boy's "fun risk-taker" is now a bitter sociopath).

Even the updated "Choose Life" speech sums up how it's different. In the 1990s, the "Choose Life" speech was about rejecting the lameness of what society says you should like and strive for, and when you're single and in your 20s, you can take those risks and have the luxury of living outside those rules that others seem to settle for. But when you're in your 40s, responsibilities like houses and cars and relationships have often piled up, and you're at a point where you can't just pick up and try something new, or take things to the limit. And Renton admitting that reality makes "Choose Life 2017" have an angry edge to it.
choose... designer lingerie, in the vain hope of kicking some life back into a dead relationship. Choose handbags, choose high-heeled shoes, cashmere and silk, to make yourself feel what passes for happy. Choose an iPhone made in China by a woman who jumped out of a window and stick it in the pocket of your jacket fresh from a South-Asian Firetrap. Choose Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and a thousand others ways to spew your bile across people you've never met. Choose updating your profile, tell the world what you had for breakfast and hope that someone, somewhere cares. Choose looking up old flames, desperate to believe that you don't look as bad as they do. Choose live-blogging, from your first wank 'til your last breath; human interaction reduced to nothing more than data. Choose ten things you never knew about celebrities who've had surgery. Choose screaming about abortion. Choose rape jokes, slut-shaming, revenge porn and an endless tide of depressing misogyny. Choose 9/11 never happened, and if it did, it was the Jews. Choose a zero-hour contract and a two-hour journey to work.

And choose the same for your kids, only worse, and maybe tell yourself that it's better that they never happened. And then sit back and smother the pain with an unknown dose of an unknown drug made in somebody's fucking kitchen. Choose unfulfilled promise and wishing you'd done it all differently. Choose never learning from your own mistakes. Choose watching history repeat itself. Choose the slow reconciliation towards what you can get, rather than what you always hoped for. Settle for less and keep a brave face on it. Choose disappointment and choose losing the ones you love, then as they fall from view, a piece of you dies with them until you can see that one day in the future, piece by piece, they will all be gone and there'll be nothing left of you to call alive or dead. Choose your future, Veronika. Choose life.
Yes, I get the irony about posting "Choose Life 2" in a blog. But hey, some of what I do here serves a function of getting out the frustration that can't be revealed in the "proper world." And that's the resignation that Renton is expressing here- you can try to live completely outside the rules, but it rarely gets you very far by the time you reach middle age.

And that's what's staying with me the day after seeing Trainspotting 2- you can love the thought of going back to the frame of mind and lifestyle that you had in your early-mid 20s, including the songs and the places and the friends that you had back then. But you're not going to ever be in that space for long- your life at 40-something won't allow it, for better or for worse. Or if you do, you're giving up a lot of what you have obtained in the last 20 years, in possessions, in careers, in new relationships and what you've learned in life experiences.

Which makes it fitting that the last scene of the movie has Renton back at his Dad's house in Edinburgh, out of work and somewhat screwed over financially. And unlike earlier in the movie, when he drops the needle on this record, this time he lets the music play and gets back into the same "I don't give a fuck" pose and mentality that Renton had in 20 years and about 40 pounds ago. And while you're nodding your head, it also is a good metaphor for how Renton has regressed in his time back in Edinburgh during Trainspotting 2, and the good feeling that this song generates should also remind you that it was a time in the past, and it's one that shouldn't be replicated too often today.

Oh, and you end up looking a lot older 20 years later. You don't know when it happened, but it sure did. Yeah, T2 made me reflect a bit today, and that's a good thing.

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