Modern Times

Trainspotting 2.

Danny Boyle’s iconic film ‘Trainspotting’ dealt with a side of Britain that few see and fewer want to. It was a film that could only be made in the UK – or the US, come to that – because the desperate circumstances forced on the lower orders is unique to these otherwise wealthy countries.

It was a film that could only be made in the UK – or the US, come to that – because the desperate circumstances forced on the lower orders is unique to these otherwise wealthy countries.
Spud, Tommy, Mark and Simon in the film Trainspotting 2.
Image: Film 4

Four Louts.

Trainspotting featured four young men who had no future. Trainspotting Two is all about that future. Mark, behaved badly but turned into someone who, but for the after effects of the US banking fraud (3), would still have a job. As I would have. But this is more than sour grapes: a lot of people have lost their jobs because rich and powerful people have no care for society.

Spud, played by Ewen Bremner, is still addicted to Heroin. Simon is still seething about a small amount of money irrespective of the fact that his aunt bequeathed him a public house that was worth substantially more. But that’s how grudges work, isn’t it? Franco is still in jail, only to escape through a hole in the plot.

This film isn’t about the plot, though. Plots are for thinkers like me. What makes a film is the imagery and the interaction of the characters, and this film has it in bucketfuls.

Drugs.

Taking drugs is a response to a desire that cannot be fulfilled easily: life’s not meant to be easy, but governments don’t have to add to these problems. A friend of mine works for a charity dealing with the homeless, it’s noticeable that I wasn’t able to post my comment (1). Because this kind of homelessness was only ever known in Europe when the refugees flooded in from countries destroyed by mendaciousness. For this reason, I’m expecting my blog to be de-rated by the search engines again. In Britain, institutional cruelty is all part of a day’s work.

In a city like Edinburgh that has been the brunt of this cruelty, this really is a place where hopelessness is all you can expect of life. I’ve lived in the North of England and there, the situation itsn’t much different. I taught in a school where in the seventies the school leavers would go up the hill to Parson’s Turbines or down the hill to Swan-Hunter’s shipyard. Of the 150 kids who left school the year I was there, three of them got jobs. The entire community was like that: they had nowhere to go.

Of the 150 kids who left school the year I was there, three of them got jobs. The entire community was like that: they had nowhere to go.
Image: Film 4

Three generations would live on the same street, three generations would be unemployed, three generations would be unemployable. Few of them had been to the centre of Newcastle, leave alone take the boat from North Shields to Amsterdam. The possibility’s there, the will isn’t. The desire to explore simply doesn’t exist. It was a world so different from my own, where aunts and uncles are scattered across the planet.

This is the world of the characters in the film. Well, apart from Mark, who is played by the irrepressible Ewan McGregor, made off with a stack of money and disappeared into the arms of a Dutch woman from Amsterdam. The opening scenes took a few moments to dawn on me, as they are so usual to my own life here. For most British viewers, the scenes would be as foreign as the scenes from Edinburgh’s ancient city centre were for me. Mark’s bright enough to have realized that his relationship was coming to an end as was his job. There are problems in the Dutch economy; they just aren’t the kind that find their way into the newspapers because the Americans simply don’t understand anything save their own culture.

A bit like the people living in Walker, near Newcastle where I taught. They know no better; why must I expect maturity of the Americans?

Trainspotting.

This is the kernel of the plot: three of the four main characters have carried on as usual. The only thing that was different was that they all bore a grudge against Mark for making off with all the money they nicked. My own book has a theme like this running through it, albeit that it’s rather more covert. That is to say, the main character isn’t playing fair only how he does this is you have to work this out for yourself.

But that’s how criminals work, isn’t it? They aren’t part of the productive economy: they make their money by taking rather than making. Having taken it, they offload their gear to fences who pay them well under the market rate. Commodity trading at its worst, and not the kind of thing that stimulates economic growth. But that’s the banks for you.

Sorry.

Which is the real problem here: between the rich and the government, Britain really isn’t a place where the economy is thriving. My post on the German Stadtsanierung (2) spoke of how a government can stimulate an economy and make money at the same time. A government that works for the good of all, and it’s no surprise that Germany has a relatively healthy economy. It’s no surprise that so many believe the newspaper reports about how Germany abuses its place in the Eurozone. Well, the Americans would, given the opportunity… wouldn’t you? But that’s for a future post about how to spot fake news.

Missed Opportunities.

Perhaps the mere fact that he’s run a dead-end pub for nigh on two decades should have nailed it? That kind of work would have the imaginative person inside an asylum
Why is an energetic character like Simon stuck behind the bar?
Image: Film 4

Mark finds Simon to be greeted with the kind of casual violence that is part and parcel of a world that hit bottom thirty years ago. I’m not sure that the gentleman nursing his pint would have been as oblivious to the goings on around him, though.

But we’re not all insightful psychologists, the point is made if but a little too forcefully than would be natural in the circumstances. It might have been the scriptwriters playing to the gallery, and that always means dumbing down. There are ways to have intriguing details in a plot-line but still have enough action to keep the inattentive from falling fast asleep. The James Bond movies are violent for that reason: without that action, the audience would all be fast asleep from boredom. Or drunk or high on heroin… these things all work together, they are all a result of a lack of opportunity.

Revenge.

The theme of the movie is of revenge, and the scriptwriters make poor use of this. That isn’t to say it’s not there, because it is, but it does rely on one of those easy-to-install quirks that the poorer class of thrillers rely on. Here it’s an ability of Spud’s that is introduced to this end. Nor is there sufficient weight given to this area in the plot: the firework had damp touchpaper.

It’s Simon who’s really out for Mark’s guts, or at least, says he is. His ability to act shows what he’s capable of, but the scriptwriters don’t develop his character sufficiently to show why he never quite gets around to doing anything about it. Perhaps the mere fact that he’s run a dead-end pub for nigh on two decades should have nailed it? That kind of work would have the imaginative person inside an asylum within three weeks. It’s more that Simon is a quandary not because of his character, but because of the things he does that don’t fit it. He has a cannabis growing operation, yet no network to distribute it. If people came to his pub to buy the stuff, the police would have been onto him in no time.

There’s too much that doesn’t add up.

Simon is still seething about a small amount of money irrespective of the fact that his aunt bequeathed him a public house that was worth substantially more.
If you live in Europe, this kind of scene is where redevelopment is taking place. In Britain, it’s where redevelopment isn’t happening.
Image: Film 4

One of the nicer elements in the story is Spud and Veronica, who is the leading lady. For once the girl is more than just the standard film bimbo. She has both intelligence and insight, which given her surname is Kovach means she’s of Hungarian descent; it’s a corruption of the name Kovacs which has roughly the same pronunciation.  She had an opportunity in that she came to the UK and did what all pretty women do in de-regulated countries: she became a prostitute. It is her meeting with Spud that made this film for me: she can see his talent for storytelling and encourages him to write them down. He’s taken by her attentiveness and prettiness and this combined with a remarkably good memory for a former heroin addict, punches them all out.

He tapes them to the walls and windows of his flat and one of the nicer images from the movie is one of them being taken down – but seen from the other side of the window. It is moments like this which made Trainspotting the hit it was, it’s moments like this one that keep the movie fresh, whatever its shortcomings are.

Spud, at least, is happy. Which at the beginning of the film he most certainly was not.

One of the cannier moments in the film is when Simon and Mark start filching bank cards from a Protestant club. As with all the best plot lines, you’re given all the information beforehand, and you’re shown what happens not told. Working these things out – in the way I worked out the Stadtsanierung – is one of the pleasures in life and the thinking behind this neat little scam was no exception. I’ll not tell you how they got past the bouncer because it’s not one of the more likely parts of the story.

Suffice it to say that they arrive at the cashpoints and use the cards. Most of them work and give out a handsome amount of money.

All I am going to say here is that the battle of the Boyne was fought in 1690 and I’ll leave the rest to you. As they did in the film. That was a truly classy moment, and it’s the kind of thinking that makes for the higher class of thief.

After seeing this movie, Orangemen across the world will be changing their PIN codes; their problem will be that they won’t be able to remember their new one!

It’s also why it’s so hard to stop the thieves taking centre stage in a plot… but that’s a challenge I’m more than happy to meet.

Conclusions.

I will tell you straight: this film is a romp, if a violent one at times and there are lots of memorable moments to savour. Or forget for your friends remind you of later.

Trainspotting 2 is on general release here in Europe. Enjoy it!

Notes:

(1) Her blog post describing the horrors of London’s homeless is here.

(2) You can read the post here; if you can understand it, I’ll give you a prize because it does take some getting your head around to realize what is going on here. Well, you’re not alone because the Americans didn’t know what was up, either, so didn’t interfere or stop it. Now you know how the Americans work…

(3) In the media, it’s called the Crash of 2007. It wasn’t a crash, it was the American banks telling everybody that they couldn’t pay out on their fraudulent contracts any more. Further to this, they cancelled the contract as well. Contracts signed in good faith (or bad faith if you were the American banker). It’s not legal, it’s not nice, it is how Americans do business: they keep the money and everybody else has to pay. Suffice it to say that if the Americans had stuck by the law, there’d have been no crisis.

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20 thoughts on “Trainspotting 2.

    1. No, and I’ll tell you why: it’s because too many people want to watch what they watched in their last movie. The great thing about Trainspotting 2 was that it was twenty years after the original and whilst the theme was the same, it had some really good gags.

      Now look at the dull, stereotyped Bond movies that pump first bullets then muscle. Nothing actually happens save raw violence. Imagine a life tied to criticizing this rubbish, day in and day out… leave that for the brain dead who work at the Daily Telegraph.

      Like

  1. That’s understandable. A few months ago I was persuaded to accompany a child (30 something) to see a Star Wars film (possibly the 77th in the series) and found it excruciating up there with Cats the musical (which I was also persuaded to see against my better judgement).
    It was either in the book “The Masterswitch” or “From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg” that the authour makes the point that films dealing with interesting individual one off topics are less likely to be made by the big studios today as they want to do a series of films with marketable, franchiseable (is this a proper word?) merchandise e.g Happy Potter wands et al…..

    Liked by 2 people

    1. All these big corporations want something that is repeatable…

      … and since we’re long past the point of no return (see Mark’s 70s comment) these corporations are actually correct… people do actually want the same things served up to them, time and time again.

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  2. It would be hard to have a career only reviewing GOOD movies. I do like your reviews, though, you bring something to them I’ve not seen in any others. I’m looking forward to T2 and am surprised it’s not showing in Lansing yet, since the original was a hit here, too.

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    1. Well, if I stuck to reviewing European movies, I might have a chance… it’s just that I’d be reviewing a film made in German or Polish!

      And T2 is well worth a visit. Probably two to get all the insights! The joke about the Orangemen was so subtle and really well executed.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. “films dealing with interesting individual one off topics are less likely to be made by the big studios today as they want to do a series of films with marketable, franchiseable (is this a proper word?) merchandise e.g Happy Potter wands et al…..”

    I know what you mean. The Ordinary People action figures never really took off commercially. 😉

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  4. The seventies had an openness that is has been closed like a vice since then. Jaws, Star Wars, and Heaven’s Gate are often cited as examples of the reason the money people in Hollywood started calling the creative shots.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s all to do with them wanting to make money, and since it’s worked before, they’ll do it again.

      These businessmen have never learned the first rule of investing: “the past is no guide to the future”.

      But then, most people demand the same story dressed up in different clothes. A friend of mine wrote the Falco series of detective novels and eventually found it repellent to have to write yet another pre-formatted story. She tried a different line, something that both interested her and gave her more space, and firstly all the critics compared it to her Falco stories – and the public roundly rejected it because it wasn’t another Falco story…

      Sigh.

      John le Carré had the right idea, and he’s not been pigeonholed by his readers in the same way.

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  5. G,

    I agree wholeheartedly with your observation about Le Carre. Have you ever read Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Series set in the time of Mary Queen of Scotts? All her novels are thoroughly researched and contain at a mimimum a three page list of characters who existed in real life in which the fictional Lymond interacts.
    She also wrote a series about an apprentice in a dye works in the Netherlands who rises to interact with the Medici bankers. Nicholas vander Poele.
    She also wrote “King Hereafter” which postulates Thorfinn Thorfinnson was one and the same Macbeth.
    As you can see from the above despite my postings in the other place I’m not entirely ferral! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve not, but I have to say, anybody who has a series that centres on one figure always sets my alarm bells off. I’ll dip into one online, see if she’s got anything to say. The Macbeth book looks more my style, though…

      The beauty of research is that you get so many great ideas. I had a character lurking in the background who has taken on something of a double life since my last research read. I also found the weather forecasts for London, Berlin and Amsterdam… so I can depict the weather that was experienced that day. It’d be a little harder for the sixteenth century and Mary, Queen of Scots…

      … for some species of scrivener, it’s only a little harder!

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  6. Thanks for re-posting my article! And what a great review.. wow. I’ve been meaning to go and see it, but might wait now until it comes out on DVD.. the cinema is expensive..! Also really interesting insights- where did you live up north? I know what you mean about the towns with 3 generations of families living with no hope, no will and no aspirations.. it’s horrendous.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The education system isn’t fit for purpose, is it? There’s not much that can be done for listless people, but there’s a huge amount that can be done for the intelligent – the intelligent but greedy. If they’ve known nothing else… if they have no idea that it is possible to think of others…

      … that is the biggest problem we face in our world. Nobody cares.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Haha so true!! Lol.. or those who do care are normally the ones who have little opportunity to do much to help. We have entire continents which are starving, and others who through out 20% of the food they produce at the end of each week. It’s madness, utter madness :/

        Liked by 1 person

      2. And it all comes down to a government that doesn’t want to do its job! If it did, there’d be a reasonable amount of social housing – just as there is in Europe. Britain can’t house its own population.

        Germany took in a million refugees and made sure they were warm, dry and fed over the bitter German winter… Britain made sure that their quota shivered and starved in Calais. Or wherever they were scattered…

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  7. I just re-read your Trainspotting review and I’m with you on every point. A lot doesn’t add up but the visuals and characters are so fucking good it’s okay. Also, I laughed harder at a couple of scenes, especially the one in which it slowly dawns on both guys in the toilet stalls who is in the next one, and how they react to that knowledge, than I think I have in years. And that 1690 business was inspired!

    I was also struck by the film’s handling of nostalgia. The flashbacks are of the characters and for the characters, but also the audience, which is also twenty years older, of course. So when we say, “Look how young they were!”, we’re also feeling, “Look how young WE were!” There’s a mournful and melancholic element in T2 that wasn’t in the first one. You said the theme of the movie is revenge, but there’s also a preoccupation with the past and what our relationship ought to be to it – what do we let go, and how to do that. Spud was angry at first but not for the money – he got his – but because his mate left him. He is the first to forgive, and is really the film’s only innocent.

    On the other hand, Spud DID help Veronica steal $100K from Mark and Simon, but they weren’t going to do anything good with that money, so it really might have been the moral choice. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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