Saturday, August 13, 2016

Choose Life...Danny Boyle Better Not Disappoint with the Trainspotting Sequel

The boys (L to R): Sick Boy, Renton, Tommy, and Spud.
I like to think of Danny Boyle's career as the ultimate hit-and-miss. His earlier work; Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, and even The Beach (I know most critics panned it, but I have some kind of cult attraction to it) were all great. Then it kind of went downhill. Despite the Academy Awards (which they actually make fun of in Trainspotting when Sick Boy (Johnny Lee Miller) says it means fuck all and is a sympathy vote) Slumdog Millionaire might be the most over-hyped movie of the 21st century, and the Steve Jobs bio-pic should have clearly been directed by David Fincher. It was a mess considering the director focuses on style and formalist aesthetics and is working with a sharp bio-pic script from the king of 'don't change shit out of my words' screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. Aside from Trainspotting, perhaps his high point was 28 Days Later. Trainspotting was a cataclysmic film in the 90's when making films about rebellion, drug addiction, and nihilism were on every filmmakers to do list. This one stands out, and stands the test of time more importantly, mostly because the protagonist Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) is a master of his own destiny. He doesn't excuse any of his actions or try to justify him, and whether he experiences tragedy, fulfillment, or mostly dissatisfaction, he keeps on trucking, and eventually wins us all over...also the script is funny as hell. We notice that in this film, he's allied himself with the idiom of British Filmmakers. He wasn't international, and his films have a hallmark of being bleak, dark, and sarcastic. His visual style is very haptic and hectic, this has worked for him in the past, and when he's trying to make serious films it just doesn't work. 

Publicity still with Danny Boyle on the left. 
I was a little apprehensive about the Trainspotting sequel, particularly because a sequel that comes out 10 years after the original is usually a film no one asked for. Also, the original was to the letter an adaptation of the genius Irving Welsh book. I have no idea what this will be based on, but Boyle is creative enough, and maybe he'll hire Welsh as a co-writer. What's really exciting is that we'll get the same cast back. Unlike what happened with Dumb and Dumber To, or Terminator Gene...shit, Trainspotting launched the careers of many brilliant actors, and brought them out of just fame in the UK to international stardom. Ewan McGregor is a household name, while Johnny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle and Ewan Bremner haven't been as successful because this film was the high point of all their careers; not to mention Shirley Henderson, Kevin McKidd, and Kelly McDonald who went on to work with brilliant filmmakers like Mike Leigh, also one of the greatest British filmmakers walking this earth. 
I'm sure this movie was so popular because it was cool AF. Rebellion is always cool, even on the streets of Edinburg when you're stealing from shops to pay for your junk habit. 
Now, another point of apprehension. When I was an angsty teenager, I had a poster of the film on my room that was also covered in pictures of Kurt Cobain, a Velvet Goldmine poster I think, and other angsty things of that nature. I thought initially that like Fight Club, I would love it as a teenager and hate it as a grown up. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although Trainspotting is highly stylized, its message of nihilism and redemption is far more genuine than that in Fight Club. Also, it's not supposed to be this cool movie just to be cool for teenagers like Fight Club is, where we see people rebelling against society or withdrawing from it completely; sarcastically justifying it to themselves and the audience. 
There are a lot of elements in the film that are a little too close to comfort, and while hitting all of the angsty nihilism points that teenagers are drawn to, it remains very sincere, and remains a towering statement. 
The is one of the more memorable and surreal scenes that became a hallmark of the Boyle aesthetic, when Renton has to dive into 'the worst toilet in Scotland' to retrieve his opiate suppositories. That's a weird sentence. 
Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) realizes that his escape from reality (it's heroin in the film but it could be anything) is not exactly the choice way to live. It's a way to die, and unlike most movies about drugs, it drives that point home in a very sharp and non-sentimental way. His ending monologue mirrors his opening monologue when he talks about choosing life, a career, a wife, all other bullshit that he decided to forgo for 'a healthy junk habit'. In the end of the film, he decides to conform, but it's not selling out. Ironically it's more of a middle finger to society than the initial one he gives it. 
It's a dated film, don't get me wrong, but it stands the test of time. Re-watching it, I was prepared to be like, see this is why I don't like it anymore. I'm not a dumb teenager who wants to rebel no matter what and asks stupid questions like 'why does there have to be war man?'. 
I don't want to say that this movie is about people and not drugs. It's about drugs. And there's nothing wrong with that. Most movies show a trajectory that descends slowly but surely into an abyss of nothingness brought on by addiction, you can have that. Mark Renton is the ultimate existential prototype. He understands the consequences of his actions and that everything is based on his decisions, and is fuck all to do with destiny. It's actually a pretty uplifting film. Also, the dialogue couldn't be tighter, and the characters are very well nuanced; even though seeming one dimensional at first. 
The OG cast returns. I'm excited, are you?
In the end, Renton makes a huge decision that most people would consider low and reprehensible, and he doesn't bother to justify it to himself. He realizes that the only person worth caring about is himself, and kisses his life of being depressed over his surroundings and numbing the pain with heroin behind him. He smiles and says 'I'm going to be just like you'. You don't like the world you live in? Tough shit, that's just how it is. You can become a junkie and ignore it, or as Mark does, you can give it the finger and move on. 
I think this film also appeals to teens because of its quick and witty dialogue, which be honest, you didn't really get until you were much older. Also, perhaps the Scottish accents got in the way. But if Boyle could just revisit himself in the 90's as a filmmaker when he was making films that were hyper-real but not disingenuous, then he'll have a good sequel. His biggest flaw is holding back. In Trainspotting, he doesn't hold ANYTHING back, he's only started to to win Academy Awards. Give up being PC, we all know it's not in your nature, and also it doesn't have to be formulaic or by-the-numbers. It can be a masterpiece much in the tradition of your earlier work, if only you can let go of 'the rules'. We're all holding our breath...well, I am. 

Below, trailer for the sequel: 

Scenes from the original: 

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