Trainspotting 2 and Nostalgic Masculinity

The film of the year has finally been released, telling the story of Renton, Sick Boy, Spud and the villainous Begbie 20 years after we left them on a bridge in Edinburgh. Chapter W Co-Founder Louisa talks about her views on the film, and its take on masculinity…WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD.

“What about men like me? What’s left for us?”

Begbie screams at a point in Trainspotting 2, desperation pouring from his mouth as his mask slips slightly and you see the boy inside him, desperate to find a place in the new digital age. It is the character of Begbie that probes so many questions after I walked out of the cinema, and the idea of a nostalgic masculinity that ran throughout the entirety of T2.

In short, Trainspotting 2 was a delight. From its excellent soundtrack (Dad’s Best Friend by The Rubberbandits being the best one of the film), the noted and completely appropriate nods to the original 1996 movie, to the superb performances from its four male leads, it didn’t disappoint. The story was strong, and completely tied together everything you wanted to know since we saw Renton take the bag from Begbie’s vulnerable sleeping arms before.

But what struck me throughout was the role of masculinity within the film. Whether it was Sick Boy’s split personality of love for his old friend, or Spud’s desperate desire to kick his habit and be ‘the man’ he needed to be, it was a theme than seeped into the script effortlessly. Along with this, was a heavy, weighted sense of nostalgia – and the two went hand in hand.

Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh described the character of Begbie (note: one of the scariest characters in film history) as ‘the poster boy for the white, male rage that we see globally today‘. In the 1996 film, Begbie is almost untouchable, the head of a group of delinquents he frowns upon due to their heroin addiction, but his own alcohol abuse mixed with his rage and anger seem to put him morally above the rest (questionable). Fast forward twenty years, and he is a man living in the past. A man who was once mighty, feared, but is now a character left behind.

He leaves jail, hoping to pick back up where he left off – burglary with his son in tact. But as he angrily learns his son is taking a course in ‘hotel management’, he spirals out of control. His revenge on Renton stewing at the back of his mind, he is unable to shake the events of 1996, and unable to adapt to the new world of opportunity – one he was never a member of, as we learn of his own neglected upbringing.

Welsh’s quote is nothing but true. Begbie’s own vulnerability seeps through his skin often, showing the audience that he is a man completely lost in a world where he no longer speaks the language. All the character seems to yearn for the days of yesteryear, the days they understood, where they were Kings. The new world offers them no leadership, no promises, and no understanding of what went wrong for them.

The four men are left aged, poor, and even worse – drug free. They no longer  haveheroin to escape the realities of the world, and what’s even worse is that time is no longer on their side. The world has moved on without them, and the masculinity they once knew (eg. violence and crime) is not one that is held in such high esteem. Masculinity has evolved, to one of sensitivity and talking about feelings, not bottling them up (not bottling someone) if things go wrong. And, in truth, to learn to adapt to this new emotion would be hard for these characters.

It is no coincidence that there are hardly any women in this film – and the woman with a main role plays a prostitute. It is because the women of the 1996 film are not a part of the nostalgia, they have moved on, got jobs, started families, and no longer can cope with the men so stuck in the days of the past. Veronika, Sick Boy’s ‘girlfriend’, plays his long suffering prostitute business partner, however outsmarts him in so many ways, betrays him, and ends up pursuing her own version of a life, leaving him in a murder filled pub, trying to remember her taste. Masculinity is the crutch of this film, and the seemingly never ending, twisting pain it brings the characters, whilst femininity is seemingly assumed to have made its way into the brave new world…

Nostalgia is a theme that runs through our own society like an old school jumper we just can’t bear to throw away. How often do we share posts of the 1990’s?  How many times do we look back at university photos and lament over our youth? Renton and Sick Boy have their own night of nostalgia, boring Veronika with George Best’s goals, flashbacks of their childhood together, and they seem so blissfully happy in the past it almost seems cruel to bring them to the present. They are so consumed by the memories they made that they attempt to shut out what has torn them a part, hence the bloody end of the film. Violence being the only answer to deal with the unexplored feelings of the past.

Man will not cry. Man will not back down. Man will avenge his 20 year old wrongdoing.

Man will not listen. Man will not forgive. And man will certainly never forget.

T2 is full of appropriate nods to the past. Renton’s adapted ‘CHOOSE LIFE’ speech certainly hits home, as you realise how consumed you are in yourself. Whether it’s your likes, your Tinder swipes, the amount of people who comment on a photo of your newly deceased loved one, we are all striving for confirmation that we exist and people care. Renton’s bitter speech shows us that the men of Trainspotting care even more than we think, and their anger at the world is more a spat with their lack of education, and lack of time to adapt. They weren’t warned. It happened in an instant. And that’s how so many men are left behind, without a trace, without being given a chance to change.

It is also worth of note that the music of T2 aches of the 1996 film, but remixed. Altered. Changed. Another nod that we have all moved on, but the memories remain, a faint melody they remember but can’t understand how it’s different.

As Spud narrates their past adventures, as Begbie sticks out his chest and proudly acts out his days of terror, and as Renton remembers the golden brown haze of 1996, T2 reminds us all that time passes, and our stories of yesterday are just that today. Stories. Memories we have, but ones that not everyone wants to remember. Communication in 2017 is secondary to T2, as we are forced to look at the men we once knew, try and convert themselves into a Facebook world where they are not natives.

In truth, this subject could be dissected further. It could be a subject for a dissertation. It could become its own book. We could do a whole series on the themes of T2. But really, there is an overwhelming sadness to the film. We heralded these characters (rightly or wrongly) as heroes before, ignoring their flaws and almost encouraging them to keep going. Be the rebel. Go against the society we cinema lovers are a part of. And to see them fall some tragically, and with such a bump, into the world we all inhabit, forces us to think about how it made us feel beyond the drive home from the cinema. Reminding us of the cruel world we all live in, and how some of citizens will never understand why so many changes happened when they were content in the world they had created for themselves. A stark reminder of our favourite memories, and a vicious, biting afterthought that we will never get them back.

Masculinity and nostalgia are as prominent in our society as they are in Boyle’s Edinburgh, and remind us all starkly not to forget the men who can’t adapt. Not to sigh as they cannot forget the glory days. And to try that little bit harder to help them on their reincarnation.

After all, T2 ends after 117 minutes – but for some, this advanced world still takes some getting used to. 

Louisa Davies


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