How does cinema capture time? How can time capture cinema? What effect does music have in showing the passage of time and forming a new world and narrative? Five years after the release of T2 Trainspotting I am still pleasantly surprised to discover the new and exciting ways that director Danny Boyle manipulates time and uses music to craft a story set two decades after its original that truly displays the effects of time. My video essay aims to answer these questions in relation to T2 Trainspotting through close textual analysis alongside historically informed analysis.
Before the title appears, the video begins with two versions of Iggy Pop’s ‘Lust for Life’, the original and The Prodigy remix, instantly providing viewers with the insight of how sound has changed over the last twenty years, as well as a chance to familiarise themselves with the film’s main theme. The video essay then dives into the ways in which T2 Trainspotting uses its past to create a refreshing and new world for its audiences, rather than use fan service and obvious call-backs as means of enticing viewers, as seen with films such as Star Wars: The Force Awakens. A close reading is applied to the opening scene, with particular focus placed on how time catches up to the main characters and how one can physically see these defects on the actors. Using a Kevin B. Lee desktop-documentary style of editing, I display Liam Gaughan’s quotation of how Boyle uses nostalgia not as a crutch, but as a tool, turning it into a weapon in the form of urgency that is used against the characters. (Gaughan, 2021: 1) Turning to another scene of close analysis, I observe the ‘1690’ scene and how Boyle uses the figures of Nationalists clinging to forgotten history as a means of forming a sense of identity and how the desperate attempt to cling to the past is futile. Beyond this, the Nationalists represent those who voted to ‘Leave’ during the Brexit referendum and Boyle’s stance on Brexit shines through in the way these characters are presented.
A significant portion of the video essay is dedicated to the discussion of freeze frames, and exploring how they literally capture time, something the characters cannot do. The freeze frames go beyond mere stylistic effect and highlight the desire to cling to moments that remind the characters of their past. Another method of preserving time arrives in the form of Boyle dating his film using contemporary technology and politics. Going beyond the realms of cinema, Boyle uses his film as a way to ‘freeze frame’ 2017 with his film. A direct quote from Boyle himself at the South By Southwest Film Festival in 2017 regarding how time can not only be extended or contracted, but can also be stopped and unlocked in cinema demonstrates the malleability of the form and how it can be used to great effect (Renee, 2017: 1).
Turning to music, one can observe how the film uses old and new sounds to reflect the characters’ positions in their lives, with them feeling comfortable in the music they remember and feeling confused and unfamiliar with the more contemporary music. A close look at High Contrast and The Prodigy’s songs reveal a comparison between their original sounds and the music that was chosen for the film, generating a sense of subversion within the film. The numerous stings heard throughout T2 Trainspotting also creates frustration for both the characters and the audience who can only hear edits of what they remember, and only hearing the full song by the end of the film once their journey is complete.
Matching the fast-paced editing of the film and the soft instrumental of Lou Reed’s ‘Perfect Day’ my video essay attempts to emulate the style of the film, while providing an informative and detailed understanding of how Boyle reshapes time and music, while also exploring how the two concepts operate in a realm beyond the screen.
– Leon Syla
Gaughan, Liam. How ‘T2 Trainspotting’ Weaponizes Nostalgia to Become One of the Best Sequels of the 21st Century. Collider. May 25, 2021
Renee, V. ‘T2 Trainspotting’ Q&A with Danny Boyle and Ewan McGregor: ‘This Better Not Be Shite’. No Film School. March 16, 2017