Is Trainspotting Still Relevant?

In 1996 Trainspotting hit theaters. It quickly gained a cult following among the troubled and restless Generation X youth. They identified with this ragtag group of Scottish society drop outs and heroin addicts that the movie centers on.

Trainspotting was a documentation of the attitude and struggles of its generation.

“Choose life, choose a job, choose family, choose a big television, choose washing machines, cd players, dental insurance, mind numbing game shows…. choose your future. I choose not to choose life, I choose something else and the reasons… there are no reasons.”

These are the words of Ewan McGregor’s character Mark Stenton, the protagonist of the film. He struggles to find his place in an urban, working class environment, riddled with high rates of unemployment. He struggles with the ideals of happiness that capitalist society has presented him with. He does not believe that consumption, a steady job, a safe insurance plan and watching lots of TV and starting a family will make him happy.

Initially he completely rejects these ideals, and lets go of the expectations and responsibility put upon him.

He chooses to not choose life.

Young people at the time related to these struggles and they came to love these characters. However, Trainspotting was not only a document of its time, it was also an exhilarating roller coaster ride with an addictive soundtrack, and this only added to its appeal.

One generation later…

Fast forward 20 years to the release of the trailer for T2 Trainspotting.

As I watched the trailer, I couldn’t help but wonder whether this film could do for my generation, what it did for Generation X, and whether Trainspotting is still as relevant as it was in ‘96.

Millennials are often labeled as lazy and entitled. We were given more attention as children than any generation before us. We are well educated and tech savvy.

We are less concerned with financial success and materialism, and more about finding meaning and approval in what we do. We were promised that everything would turn out ok, as long as we got a good education. The downside to this is that we haven’t been taught to fail.

We face higher levels of poverty, higher levels of student debt, fewer available jobs, and lower income than the generation before us. More of us live at home than our parents did at our age. Education is no longer a guarantee of success, and more highly educated people are unemployed than ever.

We are quite different than the generation before us, we face the aftermath of the global financial crisis, we live in the ever present war on terror, and exist in a globally connected world as increasingly larger parts of our lives take place online.

Do “we” identify with Trainspotting?

Although we may think we have less of a dropout/defiant culture than the generation before us, we also struggle to find purpose in circumstances of unemployment and poverty.

We struggle to find our place in society much like Mark does in Trainspotting. He chooses to be unproductive and stand against the principles of capitalism.

Our rebellion, as Millennials, would look different.

We don’t measure success by the size of our TV and stereo, or by how expensive our appliances are. We measure our success in the amount of likes we get on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. If we don’t buy into that idea of happiness we may not fit in or be as “successful”.

We care less about the money and the TV. Our struggle is that we desperately want to be heard and receive affirmation from the world around us. That is what our generation wants. Whether or not it is actually what we need.

We can identify with the struggles of the characters in Trainspotting and some of our struggles are similar. However, the world we live in is very different.

Will T2 Trainspotting be relevant to our generation?

“Choose life, choose Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and hope that someone, somewhere cares…”

These are the first words of Mark Renton in the T2 Trainspotting trailer. His voice-over continues listing of a few other current addictions and indulgences of our generation. Obviously, we can’t know until the film comes out, but the voice-over suggests that this film is trying to be current.

The film is partially based on Irvine Welsh’s follow up to Trainspotting, entitled: Porno. In this book the characters of Trainspotting get involved with the amateur porn industry. However this quote from the book reveals that it goes deeper than that:

“That’s the thing with sex work, it always comes down to the most basic of formulas. If you really want to see how capitalism operates…this is the place to study.”

Pornography is the backdrop of their comments on capitalism much like heroin was in Trainspotting. With the rise of internet pornography and more and more scientific studies on the effects of porn addiction, it is a much talked about topic today. More people struggle with porn addiction than ever before.

We can only speculate how much of the book will end up in the film, but the topic of pornography and capitalism is definitely something today’s audiences can relate to regardless of their position on the matter. If the film does explore this topic in an interesting way it would definitely be relevant.

Who is it for?

In an interview with NME the actor who plays Begbie, Robert Carlyle, talks about his experience reading the new script:

“The way John Hodge has put this thing down, obviously with the help of Danny Boyle, is to make it about how the characters’ lives have moved on… or have they?…Have they achieved anything? And of course the audience are going to be asking themselves exactly the same questions.”

This points to the idea that this film may not actually intended for Millennials at all. It may be more of a challenge for the Generation X’ers to evaluate their lives and the path they have taken since they were young and rebellious.

In order for this film to be relevant and to have the same impact that Trainspotting did, it needs to not only challenge and appeal to the members of Generation X who liked the first film, but to Millennials as well. It needs to deal with the issues we face today, however different or similar they are to what Generation X was facing then.

On the 27th of January next year, see for yourself if T2 Trainspotting is relevant today, or not.


  • My name is Josias, I like writing songs, walking barefoot in the rain, making bow-ties, cooking food with lentils while listening to Jazz and picking things up and putting them back down (repeatedly). I wear many hats, here are some of them; Video Producer/Director, Production Designer and Actor.


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