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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
(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.