Choose Life: T2 and Coming Full-Circle
"Nothing has changed..."
-David Bowie, Sunday
I first saw Trainspotting when I was 16 years old, which in retrospect was the perfect time. Though I was never a drug addict of any kind, the film perfectly illustrated the process of growing up, in relation to your friends and your culture. I naturally gravitated towards Renton as a character in those days, his thoughts were my thoughts, on growing up, on going into the machine of culture and becoming a product of it. What if I didn't wanna do that? What if I thought my culture was bullshit? What if I thought it was unfair I was inheriting the mortal debt of generations of ecological and economic psychotic self-destruction?
Watching Renton quietly linger towards the fringes in his group of friends, yet narrating all the time, suddenly shouting something like "It's shite being Scottish!", when his friend Tommy talked of national pride, was exactly my wavelength at the time. I was angsty, I thought way too much, and I was seriously pissed off. My culture wasn't in the present, it was a patchwork of music and art and literature that had gone out of style 10, 20, and 30 years previous, with a minor mix of modern hits. I extrapolated late 70's punk rock and New Wave and made them as real as anything on TV or the radio, I treated the paintings of Jean-Michel Basquiat as if they were current works of art, the beats and the hippies were immediately culturally relevant to me. Which really, what does it matter? Even the modern stuff, at best, is just images flashing across a screen and sounds from a speaker, replace that with something else and it's much the same.
I remember spending the lonely, solitary hours in my room listening to Lou Reed on my first generation iPod and scribbling obscure literary references from Gravity's Rainbow, Burroughs, Vonnegut, Rimbaud, and, yes, Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting on my black-and-white Vans. Seeing it on the couch of my friend's living room at the time, with one or two of our fellow friends, was only a bonus in that I could connect that much more. Knowing stand-ins for each character to some degree; Sick Boy, you don't completely trust him, but he's your mate, Spud, too innocent for his own good, infinitely naive and well-meaning, Begbie, confrontational, flips like a switch, and even of the more grounded real life analogs, he's probably the one you wanna avoid most. Even if these people only resemble the characters in passing, I never once had a friend shoot up in front of me or pull a knife or engage in any serious violence, thank god, you can still relate to a lot of the feelings.
Having a circle of male friends, living in a state like Texas, one of the few with a bizarre sub-national pride which can't fully accept it's statehood but will never leave the union, and just trying to grow up on your own terms. The movie hit me really hard the first time I saw it, then the time after that and the time after that and on and on. I was enchanted; by the music, the characters, the scattered and disparate story-line threads. It's energy was utterly engrossing, it's images mesmerizing. It was a perfect blend of the absolutely, gut-wrenchingly real with the hyper-kinetic and surrealistic. It was raw, it was hilarious, sad, fun, gritty, colorful, it was my youth. At the end, the character Renton, who'd been off and on heroin 2 or 3 times since the beginning of the film, moving among the living-dead of the underground to avoid joining the same drooling rank in polite society, walks into the sunset resolving to "Choose Life..." after having swindled his friends out of 16,000 pounds and skipping town with the bag of money in tow. Rather than being an addict, he'd chosen, in a loaded and ambiguous ending, to become just like us; a mortgage, a big-fucking-television, kids, junk-food, game shows, etc.
Fast-forward 7 years later, I am now the age that the characters were in the original film, living in a new city, and I'm seeing the sequel, T2: Trainspotting 2, which takes place 20 years later. That really puts it into perspective doesn't it? If I'm that age now, then why do I feel so different? Brandon, Julio, and I all went to the pre-screening, and as the original opened with Renton's feet hitting the pavement, running from department store security as the items he and his friends were attempting to shop-lift fell out of their jackets and clothes to Lust for Life by Iggy Pop, the sequel opens with Renton's feet hitting the rubber of the treadmill with a somewhat subdued remix. Not to spoil anything, but he ends up suffering a heart attack and then his body hits the rubber and goes off the back into a pillar, he lays on the ground for a moment before anyone else on their hamster wheels react. This was an interesting beginning, as running on a treadmill has been one of my more consistent exercises, doing so with the music of my youth piping into my ears on my iPhone and losing myself in the rhythmic motion and flooding endorphins--Lust for Life by Iggy Pop, Born Slippy by Underworld, and Perfect Day by Lou Reed, definitely all getting their due plays and replays. Not to mention I just caved after another month of vegetarianism, a dietary and ethical choice that would never even have phased or crossed my mind as a teenager.
I'm not going to spoil it, but after having lived in Amsterdam for the past 20 years, Renton finds himself again visiting his home of Edinburgh after his near-death experience and the plot unfolds from here. Whereas the first one gripped me immediately, in the first frames, this one has been a slow-burn, that's sat with me after watching it. I enjoyed it quite a bit in the theater, but I want to go again and see things I missed the first time. It was a trip down memory lane through-and-through, the film stands very well as a sequel and on it's own. The tone is totally different though, the previous film was about youth, this one is about aging, and it's not without Boyle's beautiful color palette and energetic cuts and soundtrack, but something about it is far more somber, subdued. The film is still with me. It wasn't as good as the first, how could it be? But it was very good, it was the only thing a sequel could've possible been. It was honest, as the first one was. The party's over, now we're dealing with where it left us. Which is a weird thing for me to say, I'm only 23, and though I still feel it, my youth, my prime, I could relate to the refinement of the new film, the maturity, the perspective. After the immediacy clears, the next hit, the next love, the next job, the next project, the smoke and debris of living our life and we stop for a moment, where are we left? What have we done?
I suppose the best answer I've got is that you're the same person but you've been changed utterly. Nothing will ever be as good as the first Trainspotting again, sure I was 16--I was being exposed to the films of David lynch for the first time, reading Murakami and Borges, how can you beat that? But that's because T2 presents something else, another stage of life. It's funny, the night before we saw it, Brandon and me were messing around with the new Google Maps feature that allows you to pick a location and then move back and forth through time. Looking at the snapshots from 2016, 2015, then choosing to go back to 2011, 2010, 2007. He found his childhood home in California, and told me a story about how he once crashed his bike in the woods and showed me where and how, he looked at his uncle's home in New Mexico and went from 2016 to 2007. I looked at my Grandpa's house, recognized the years based on work being done on a neighbor's fence, the walkway being repainted, I looked at my old childhood home in Texas. And we talked a lot about life, memories of youth, reminiscence, how we've been friends since we were 9.
I'm here now, 23, almost 24, a different person than when I was 16. I don't have anything conclusive to really say about it, other than it is what it is. And even though I feel like I've experienced so much, it's still, hopefully, only the beginning. I'm listening to Do You Feel It? by Chaos Chaos, which was featured in perhaps one of the saddest moments of any episode of Rick and Morty, and I've got a pile of books near my computer, a bunch on local Phoenix history, as it occurs to me that this city is going through a recent cultural renaissance (apparently it's metropolitan population is set to be 4th in the nation by 2020) and I want some more context with it's past, present, and future, and short story collections, Slow Learner by Pynchon, others by Eggers, Lethem. And there's also my T2 poster that I got from the screening, a big one for answering one of the trivia questions before the screening: "Which James Bond movie featured Robert Car--?" Hand flies up: "The World is Not Enough!" "Oh...That's right."
I look at all these things and think about where I've been, where I am, and where I'm going. The city's growing steadily outside my window, that's a good sign, maybe I can cling onto some of that momentum if nothing else. All I know is my hard-drive is slowly but surely filling up with new writing, fiction now, the type of stuff that's generating short-stories, material for novels, screenplays. I was so blocked at one time that I would've given anything to write like this again, as far as I'm concerned now my youth is a small price to pay. That's the price of admission though, isn't it? You have to be willing to pay with your youth in this life in order to find out who you really are.