WARNING: Contains very mild spoilers but no plot points
Polaris and I checked out T2 Trainspotting last night. It (the film, not going to the cinema with your ex) has been accused of being an exercise in nostalgia. Indeed, the movie even accuses itself of such at one point.
But this is not happy, wistful nostalgia; I was left instead with a sense of regret that resonated with my current ennui. The original movie is a classic of nihilism and self-destruction; this sequel is equally nihilistic but far less exuberant, asking us again: “what’s the point?”.
Mark Renton aka Rent Boy returns to Edinburgh, having spent 20 years trying to get away from the place. This fact alone encapsulates the futility of his life. Everything he has done, everything he risked, is wasted as he returns to square one.
Square one – with one major difference. The drugs which played such a central role in the original movie have barely a bit part here. Once joyous and catastrophic, they fade into the background this time around, having little impact even when called upon. In fact, the main concern seems to be how much they cost when grown ups have other expenses to consider.
Mark runs around with his old pals, trying and failing to find something that excites him, chasing the exhilarating times of their youth. The flashbacks are, on the whole, cast as euphoric.
It got me thinking – what exhilarates me at 40? Getting more involved in politics? Planning a new kitchen? An exotic holiday? A new boxset on Netflix?
And I realise that none of those things will ever come close to the feeling of going out and getting pissed with my mates when I was young. Nothing will ever make my heart race or my lungs burn with laughter as much as gathering in crowds on cold pavements, as drunken arguments and kisses, as running across the dark common, as waking up to piece together the night before.
This may have something to do with the way our brains develop. It’s not until our early 20s that our prefrontal cortex finishes developing. Up to then, we are less rational and we understand consequences less. Children and young people rely more on the amygdala, which runs on emotions and impulse. It’s the famous Marshmallow Test: you give a kid a marshmallow and tell them that if they don’t eat it for ten minutes, they can have another one. The kid will eat the marshmallow. They can’t bloody help it. What’s more – they will eat it and enjoy it and not care about the consequences.
Those excesses of our youth – drinking, sex, a thousand bad decisions – we knew not what we did and we loved it. Twenty years later – we know exactly. So next time, you drive to the pub because you’d rather drink lemonade than wait for a bus home, or refuse another glass to avoid the hangover, or tell someone that it’s healthier to just be friends, or tut as a group of rowdy kids run past, don’t blame yourself. We cannot recapture those carefree days. We cannot ignore the consequences. We cannot pretend that anything is possible.
At the end Mark – no longer Rent Boy – dances to “Lust for Life” in his childhood bedroom. It is an act of longing, surrender, perhaps even what passes for rebellion at his age. And that is the sadness of Trainspotting in our 40s.