We all like to think - at least at my age - that our memories are if not infallible, then at least reliable. The reality is more slippery. We remember in snippets, beats and snatches of sentences. Most of us don't remember most things. We have fleeting impressions, barely recalled, that form the basis of our memories and opinions of events. Bars of music, not a whole composition.
That's the essence of what T2 Trainspotting so brilliantly evokes. Faced with the legacy of a film of genuine cultural impact, it doesn't take the route of a sequel. I was one of those who felt like Trainspotting had been made for me. A 22-year old Edinburgh native, I had a relatively sheltered life. My leafy suburb only gets a mention in the film as the location of a jewellers robbed by the boys, as told to Renton in London. I could have taken you to its door. My parents did that Edinburgh safe distance thing, keeping me well away from the heroin saturated carnage of the Leith housing estates. I was a 'good boy'. Even so, Trainspotting on night of release in a packed Aberdeen cinema, felt not so much like a new cinematic language but a new art form just for me. Cinema pouring outside of the confines of the four sides of the frame, bleeding into streets I knew and people I had previously only seen and heard but never, until that night, listened to. It's not overstating it to say that the film played a role in my discovery of social justice which has since shaped my life choices. The film redefined the city I thought I'd grown up in, the life I thought I knew.
T2 Trainspotting doesn't do that. Nothing else could. You can't replicate a major cultural moment. It addresses many other things instead. Chief amongst them, memory. Grief. Masculinity. Middle-aged crisis. Regret. It alludes to the previous film, splicing in shots and hints of shots, bursts of music. One evocation of grief at Renton's Dad's kitchen table is so simple and true and beautiful that I gasped out loud.
The first film was always associated with running. From the opening sequence to the more allusive sense of running from responsibility or real life, it was a story of people on the move. That haunts the frames of this film too. Characters roam streets - running, walking, standing - haunted by hints of their former, younger selves moving at faster pace. Renton is returning to the city; the others have never left but are all still running.
I live in Cape Town now. Like Renton, my mother has died. My father has recently moved into supported accommodation. Like Renton, I am now better versed in my addictions - though there's a 12-step programme for none of them (same as you, most likely). Many of the people I knew from Edinburgh are no longer there; a handful are. I was there in September, but in the scheme of things it's a rare event. Characters ran, walked, stood on streets haunted by their own ghosts. In an empty cinema, on South Africa's opening night, they ran with mine too.
My snatched memories; my regrets; my increasingly fragile body which was never that strong. Again the film had been made for me. Again the film's grammar pours out of the edges of traditional film-making to something all together different and more vital. But this isn't so much a rush as it is a wash. An engulfing. A soaking in times past, opportunities missed and taken, lives irrevocably changed and always a hint of what could have been but never will be. The lurking blush when you remember what your 17-year old self said; the sense that those streets belong as uniquely to me in all my suburban comfort as they do to Spud and Sick Boy.
The first film was an invigorating plunge pool. This is a warm soak, for all its crudity and nastiness. A life-affirming, human wallow in the reality of regret and the realisation that though not perfect, you turned out OK in the end. Again a film has been made for me. Like the first one I will hold it close, hold it tight. And it will shape me - more gently, more gradually, perhaps - but shape me nonetheless.Suggest a correction