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Time Loops Back On Itself (Even Without Heroin) In 'T2 Trainspotting'

18 hours ago

20 years ago, a low-budget film with a great soundtrack (Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Blur) became a huge hit. And then a lot of people ended up with a poster on their bedroom wall featuring an epically profane rant that began, "Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family ..."

The film was, of course, Trainspotting, based on Irvine Welsh's novel of the same name. It's set in Edinburgh, and it's about a working class guy named Mark Renton and his mates — Spud, Begbie, Simon, and Tommy — who chose drugs, namely heroin, over the straight life. At the end of the film (spoiler alert), Renton betrays his friends and skips town with a stash of stolen money.

Now, he's come back to Edinburgh for the first time, as sequel T2 Trainspotting gets the original cast back together. Director Danny Boyle and star Ewan McGregor, who played Renton, say they'd always wanted to do a sequel, but earlier efforts didn't work out.

"If we were going to revive these guys, or reintroduce people to them, there would have to be a very good idea beyond the original film," Boyle says. "And it's this 20-year gap that did it for us, and when we started to work on this a couple of years ago, it became very personal, I think, for all of us, about male behavior over time. And a period of 20 years is an extraordinary kind of measuring point."


Interview Highlights

McGregor on why Renton comes back to Edinburgh

He comes back in not a good frame of mind, that's true. I think he had to find a way to get away from them, I think he had to find a way to find himself, he had to get away from his mates. Because everywhere he went, they kept following him around. He goes to London, and for a moment he enjoys a life — he's an estate agent, he's enjoying his life, and then suddenly Begbie's there ... he has to betray them in order to make sure that he gets away from them, maybe. Then once he's been away from them for 20 years, well now he's got to find his way back to them, in order to figure out who he is and what he's going to do.

Boyle on what people should take from these two films — are we all just stuck in our pasts?

As an elder of these events, all I can do is — something that we do recommend in the film, which is one of the few compensations of aging — is the realization that time isn't a straight line, actually that it loops. It's one of the few consolations available, I have to warn everybody. It does begin to loop rather beautifully, and that was the idea of Spud's character, who begins in a hopeless cycle of addiction and rehab and addiction and rehab, and as he finds his voice, really, towards the end of the film, and the film begins to loop back to the original book and the original film ... it's like an extended madeleine moment, you know, from Proust. The beauty of time. Because it can be terrifying, time, when you see its consequences — as you do with these actors, the same actors you remember in the first film but now you see what they're like now.

There's a beautiful thing that happens as well, which is they do find some kind of atonement, and it's led, in a curious poetic way, by Spud beginning to say, "no, let's find the value of the past as well, in our stories."

Producer Graham Smith, editor Becky Sullivan, and web producer Petra Mayer contributed to this report.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Twenty years ago, a low-budget film with a great soundtrack became a huge hit. And then a lot of people ended up with a poster on their bedroom wall with some version of this.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TRAINSPOTTING")

EWAN MCGREGOR: (As Mark Renton) Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a [expletive] big television. Choose washing machines, cars.

CORNISH: The film was of course "Trainspotting." It was based on a novel of the same name. "Trainspotting" was set in Edinburgh and about a working-class guy named Mark Renton and his mates - Spud, Begbie, Simon and Tommy. They chose drugs, namely heroin, over the straight life. At the end of the film, Renton gets away. Now he's come back to Edinburgh for the first time since.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "T2 TRAINSPOTTING")

JONNY LEE MILLER: (As Simon) So what you been up to for 20 years?

MCGREGOR: (As Mark Renton) I've been in Amsterdam.

MILLER: (As Simon) Nice.

MCGREGOR: (As Mark Renton) All right.

MILLER: (As Simon) What else - married?

MCGREGOR: (As Mark Renton) No.

MILLER: (As Simon) Nice.

MCGREGOR: (As Mark Renton) Dutch woman.

MILLER: (As Simon) Kids?

MCGREGOR: (As Mark Renton) Two.

MILLER: (As Simon) Boys or girls?

CORNISH: The new film is "T2 Trainspotting." It gets the original actors back together. The star is Ewan McGregor, and the director is Danny Boyle. Our co-host Kelly McEvers spoke with them this week.

KELLY MCEVERS, BYLINE: Ewan McGregor and Danny Boyle said they always wanted to do a sequel to "Trainspotting," but earlier tries failed. Danny Boyle takes it from there.

DANNY BOYLE: If we were going to revive these guys or reintroduce people to them, there would have to be a very good idea beyond the original film and what that covered, and it's this 20-year gap that did it for us. And when we started to work on this a couple years ago, it became very personal I think for all of us about male behavior over time, really.

MCEVERS: (Laughter).

BOYLE: And a period of 20 years is an extraordinary kind of measuring point, you know, or reckoning moment. So that's what we've done with the film, yeah.

MCEVERS: At the end of the first film, I mean, you know - I don't think we're going to be giving anything away (laughter) by talking about the end of the first film. You know, Renton betrays his friends. He steals the money, and he gets away. And you have this sense that he's going to be free, free from this pretty rough life he's had in Edinburgh. And he just sort of runs off into the sunset at the end of the film.

And then of course this film is all about coming back and this feeling that he really isn't free from the past and free from the mistakes. That's a little bleak (laughter) I guess is what I want to say.

MCGREGOR: Yeah, he comes back and not in a good frame of mind. That's true. I think he had to get away from them. I think he had to find a way to find himself. He had to get away from his mates because...

MCEVERS: Right.

MCGREGOR: ...Everywhere he went, they kept following him around like they - he goes to London and he...

MCEVERS: Right, in the first film (laughter)...

MCGREGOR: ...He - for a moment, he enjoys a life of - he's an estate agent in the '80s, and he's, like, you know - he's enjoying his life, and then suddenly Begbie's there.

MCEVERS: They show up.

MCGREGOR: And then suddenly he can't get away from them. And he has to betray them in order to make sure that he gets away from them maybe.

MCEVERS: Right, and that's the...

MCGREGOR: Then once he's been away from them...

MCEVERS: Yeah.

MCGREGOR: ...For 20 years, well, now he's got to find his way back to them in order to figure out who he is and what he's going to do I think.

MCEVERS: I do want to talk about drug use and in particular heroin use. Obviously in the first film that was a major part of these characters' lives. And in this film, those who were using heroin in the first film have stopped using heroin except Spud.

MCGREGOR: Yeah.

MCEVERS: But then pretty early on in this movie, Renton shows up, and Spud decides to finally quit. And at first Renton actually helps him. I just want to listen to a clip of the two of them talking about addiction and stuff. Here it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "T2 TRAINSPOTTING")

MCGREGOR: (As Mark Renton) It's not getting it out of your body that's the problem. It's getting it out of your mind. You are an addict.

EWEN BREMNER: (As Spud) You think I haven't heard that a hundred thousand times, Mark? You got 12 more steps for me, comrade?

MCGREGOR: (As Mark Renton) So be addicted. Be addicted to something else.

BREMNER: (As Spud) Like running until I feel sick?

MCGREGOR: (As Mark Renton) Yes, or something else. You've got to channel it. You've got to control it. People try all sorts. Some people do boxing.

BREMNER: (As Spud) Boxing?

MCGREGOR: (As Mark Renton) Well, it's just an example. I don't mean you should...

BREMNER: (As Spud) So what did you channel into?

MCGREGOR: (As Mark Renton) Getting away.

MCEVERS: So this is this very grown-up conversation - right? - about how to...

MCGREGOR: Yeah.

MCEVERS: ...Deal with addiction and, like, helping out a friend. And then later in the film - and I'm not going to give too much away - but a couple of the characters do use heroin again. And then the moment just kind of passes, and we sort of move on in the plot.

And in this film that's sort of about consequences and about, you know, owning up to your past, the fact that that just sort of passes by and we don't think about it again - I don't know. It just made me stop and say, wait a second. Where did all that grown-up talk about drug use go?

MCGREGOR: Yeah. I think they do it because they have to do it, in a way, to move forward. It's like for old times' sake or something.

MCEVERS: Yeah.

MCGREGOR: It comes after their discussions about Tommy, who died of...

MCEVERS: Right.

MCGREGOR: ...Heroin. And then some really difficult things get brought up between Simon and I about our pasts. And then...

MCEVERS: Yeah.

MCGREGOR: ...It seems like the obvious thing to do. It's certainly in keeping with our characters from the old days where - I don't know if I'm allowed to say this on the radio - but their two sort of guiding words are [expletive] it. And that's sort of what leads them into it I think - is the...

MCEVERS: Right.

MCGREGOR: ...Sense of that. And it doesn't mean very much to them now I guess. They do it, and then we're on with the story. And the next thing that happens of course is that Begbie catches up with Renton for the first time, and...

MCEVERS: Right, and then all kinds of chaos ensues, but...

MCGREGOR: ...That takes precedence over everything, yeah.

MCEVERS: ...I mean for those of us who were in our 20s when the film first came out, just like these characters, and who are now maybe in our 40s, you know...

(LAUGHTER)

MCEVERS: ...I guess I - you know, I'm thinking, like, what should I take from this? Like, what does this mean, you know, that no matter how much you try to escape the past, you never can, that growing up just kind of sucks (laughter). Like, you know what I mean? Like, that was kind of the feeling I came away with from the film.

BOYLE: Can I? As an elder of these...

(LAUGHTER)

BOYLE: ...These events, all I can do is - something that we do recommend in the film is, which is one of the few compensations of aging, is the realization that time isn't a straight line - actually that it loops. It's one of the few consolations available. I have to warn (laughter) everybody that it does begin to loop rather beautifully. And that was the idea of Spud's character in it, who begins in a hopeless cycle of addiction and rehab and addiction and rehab and actually finds his voice really...

MCEVERS: Right.

BOYLE: ...Towards the end of the film. And the film begins to loop back to the original book and the original film. It's like an extended madeleine moment, you know, from Proust. It's like a - it's the beauty of time because it can become terrifying - time - when you see its consequences as you do with these actors, the same actors who you remember in the first film but now you see what they're like now. There's a beautiful thing happens as well, which is they do find some kind of atonement, and it's led in a curious, poetic way by Spud beginning to say...

MCEVERS: Right.

BOYLE: ...No, let's find the value of the past as well in our stories.

MCEVERS: Well, Ewan McGregor and Danny Boyle, thank you both so much. I really appreciate it.

MCGREGOR: Thank you.

BOYLE: Thank you.

CORNISH: The new movie "T2 Trainspotting" opens today.

(SOUNDBITE OF IGGY POP SONG, "LUST FOR LIFE")

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And one brief note - yesterday, in our review of the new "Beauty And The Beast," we made an error. In retelling the movie's opening number, we mentioned a forgetful man who we said never reappears in the film.

CORNISH: In the interest of accuracy, we should say that this character does reappear, but we don't want to spoil things for you, so we won't say more.

(SOUNDBITE OF IGGY POP SONG, "LUST FOR LIFE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.