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The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Fit to be king
Lilli Dellheim '25 M.A., Special to the Hawk • July 13, 2024

Choosing growth

Graphic by Kaitlyn Patterson 20.
Graphic by Kaitlyn Patterson ’20.

Returning to Edinburgh for “T2 Trainspotting”


“Choose life.”

That’s the line that Mark Renton, a heroin addict played by Ewan McGregor, repeats with a smirk in the 1996 film “Trainspotting.” He goes on to list other things you can choose when reaching adulthood, ranging from washing machines to friends to your own health.

But why would I want to do a thing like that?” Renton counters at the end of his diatribe. “I chose not to choose life: I chose something else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin?”

“Trainspotting” was a massive success when it opened in the mid-90s, grossing $72 million on a $1.8 million budget. Adapted from a novel by Scottish author Irvine Welsh and set in Edinburgh, it was praised for shedding light on the plight of heroin addicts and the regrettable state of urban life in Scotland, as well as telling a story about and for the youth of that era.

Now, 21 years later, it has spawned a sequel. “T2 Trainspotting” boasts the return of the original film’s core cast – McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller and Robert Carlyle – and its director, Danny Boyle, who has directed “28 Days Later,” “127 Hours,” “Steve Jobs” and “Slumdog Millionaire,” winning an Academy Award for the latter.

I haven’t seen “Trainspotting” in about three years and didn’t watch it on purpose before I saw “T2,” reasoning that a film should be able to stand on its own. You don’t need to see “The Godfather” to understand and appreciate “The Godfather Part II,” and it’s easy to jump into an entry of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy without prior knowledge of any others. The same cannot be said for “T2” and the reason why is also the film’s biggest weakness.

The original “Trainspotting” is required viewing for this in order to fully comprehend the motives of the characters in “T2”. There are a half-dozen moments lifted from “Trainspotting” and shown as flashbacks and images from the original are also replicated almost exactly, most notably, a scene where Renton lets out a crazed laugh after nearly being hit by a car. In the first film, it’s because he’s high. In this one, it’s because he’s being chased down by his old friend who’s trying to kill him because of how he left Edinburgh 20 years ago.  

“Trainspotting” is a story about and for the youth of the 90s. It is so synonymous with its time period, but is there anything that today’s own youth can learn from the story of Renton and his friends Spud, Simon and Franco, even if we inhabit completely different worlds?

When I posed this question directly to Boyle at a press event, he grinned.

“I have absolutely no idea,” Boyle said, laughing. “Only you can say that, really.”

Well, as a member of this era’s youth, allow me to say what I took from “T2.”

At its core, the film is not a story about young people and for young people as its predecessor was in the 1990s. It is a story of stunted growth, directed at the generation that embraced Renton, Spud, Simon and Franco when they first debuted.

While “T2” doesn’t appeal to me, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it. The cinematography is great, the script is colorful and funny, Boyle’s direction is spot-on and all of the actors look enthusiastic to return to the material. Nobody’s sleepwalking through his or her job, which is a relief. And while it’s not meant for me, I think there is a lesson that those my age and experience can take from it: it’s impossible not to choose life.

There’s an updated version of the “choose life” monologue later in “T2,” delivered by McGregor’s world-weary Renton. This incarnation incorporates references to advancements made in the 20 years since the first, including social media, reality TV and a two-hour commute to work. He ends the speech with “choose life” once more, but this time it’s with a realization that he has done nearly nothing with his own. It’s a point that Boyle himself hinted at as we closed our interview.

“All I can tell you,” Boyle said, “is that men remain the same for far too long.”

“T2 Trainspotting” is about four men who continue to refuse to choose life and face the consequences for it. What could be a more frightening cautionary tale for a young adult of today?

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