Friday, April 21, 2017

T2 Trainspotting (Danny Boyle)

Choose again
I remember the experience of seeing Trainspotting for the first time --the drugs; the impenetrable accent; the band of bent-over addicts posed against the highlands as if they were the world's coolest band; The Worst Toilet in Scotland; the baby crawling on the ceiling. It was a high high, never mind the grim message that heroin addiction is a fast lane to nowhere (or as Mark (Ewan McGregor) might put it "fest loanin tae nowhaur"), Danny Boyle's movie was as startling as they came, one of the most vivid entertainments of the '90s. 

Boy we were stupid then weren't we? 

It was half a decade after the Soviet Union fell and a year before the Asian crisis; the world scrambled out of a Cold War that had started immediately after the Second World War and (I suspect) wasn't quite sure what direction to take next. So it floundered, sometimes in interesting ways. 

Boyle's picture was a creature of the '90s adapted from an Irvine Welsh novel of the same name set in the late '80s; not sure if Boyle understood what Welsh was really saying (it was Thatcher's England, her economic policies had put a lot of folks out of work, heroin was incredibly cheap at the time) but took (I suspect) all the descriptions of controlled substance abuse as his cue to cut loose on the big screen--hence the scribbled captions, the surrealism (Mark's denimed legs sinking into a toilet bowl), the ceiling-crawling baby, etc

Welsh's verbal portrait of doped despair faded somewhat in the Oughties (his sequel Porno moved on to other vices), but that cool music-video grunge aesthetic translated into any number of movies, from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (you might call Guy Ritchie's entire career a ripoff of Boyle's picture) to Mr. Robot to every movie Boyle has done since (A Life Less Ordinary is Trainspotting with a love story; The Beach is Trainspotting on a--well you know; 28 Days Later is Trainspotting with zombies; Millions is Trainspotting with kids; Sunshine is Trainspotting in space; Slumdog Millionaire is Bollywood Trainspotting; 127 Hours is Trainspotting pinned physically to a rock (while the mind roams freely in a druglike trance state); and what else is the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony but Trainspotting--the clouds! the music! the film references and surreal circus/carnival feel!--in 3D?). It's an aesthetic effect that in effect has been so thoroughly stripmined by subsequent movies and TV shows it has itself become a tired cliche.

So when I say T2 Trainspotting is an altogether more sober and less exuberant effort don't mean that as a slam. Mark, Spud (Ewen Bremner), Jonny Lee Miller (Sickboy), and Begbie (Robert Carlyle) are back, a little thicker round the middle a little thinner off the top. Perhaps the biggest difference is less looks than attitude and circumstance: these folks have been running a little longer, are considerably more tired; where the younger Mark could sprint across the street be rammed by a car laugh defiantly at the driver, the decades older Mark can barely manage rolling off a car roofBones ache muscles strain breaths come in shallower gasps; everything takes longer to happen and who's to say that's a bad thing? We're that much closer to our graves; we're in no tearing hurry. 

What am I saying exactly? I'm saying Trainspotting several decades a handful of wars and a Great Recession later seems more frivolous than electrifying (doesn't help that it's been thoroughly repeatedly recycled, by countless imitators and by Boyle himself). I'm saying the characters in their fifties have finally achieved a measure of depth and maturity or at least self-awareness (where before they mostly assumed a series of picturesque poses). I'm saying it's a sadder more thoughtful movie, arguably the best thing Boyle's done so far in his shallow flashy career, with maybe one emotionally resonant trick shot: of Spud standing on a sidewalk as the younger Mark flashes straight out of the previous film right past him. For a moment Boyle fuses state-of-the-art filmmaking with filmmaking that touches on human nature and the entropic progress of time; for a brief moment--and only for that moment--I'd say Boyle was a real filmmaker. 

And then it's gone forever and Spud is left gaping. O critics are complainin a-plenty: the magic's gone, lightning doesn't strike twice, you can never recover that youthful beauty and vigor. Which is exactly what I find so (fitfully) moving in this (fairly) well-made (far) better-than-the-overrated-original sequel (matinee screening: only five dollars!).   

No comments: