“Choose unfulfilled promise and wishing you’d done it all differently. Choose never learning from your mistakes. Choose watching history repeat itself. Choose the slow reconciliation towards what you can get, rather than what you always hoped for.”
-Renton (T2: Trainspotting)
The Big Chill (1983) is the story of a group of college friends who reunite 15 years after graduation to mourn the death of a friend. It is, to me, the quintessential film of the Boomer Generation at middle age.
The Big Chill is about entering the time of consequences. At 40 your opportunities to reinvent yourself are starting to run low. Sure you might learn a new language or start a new business, but you probably aren’t going to be a rock star or doctor.
At 40, the choices you made in your 20s are either paying off, or it is time to dig in and make life what you want it to be.
I was at a management course recently and flipped through the slide deck for the presentation. Three slides on managing Boomers, four slides on managing Millennials. “Generation X” not only did not have a slide, they were not mentioned in the entire presentation.
I am a member of Generation X. The slacker generation. The MTV generation. The rerun generation.
Generation X is the middle-child of the 21st century.
Mine is a generation that was represented on film in movies like Singles, Reality Bites, Glory Daze, and Trainspotting.
Those coming-of-age movies are now all about 20 years old. I have been on watching for my generation’s The Big Chill. The film that defines Generation X at middle age.
And I found it in T2 Trainspotting.
The best-known section of the original Trainspotting is Renton’s “Choose Life” speech. It was a cynical take on the 90s branded, packaged, consumerist world.
The film’s ending has Renton deciding to choose that version of Life after all. For a generation that could not see how to get off the ride, buying-into-buying seemed one of the only solutions.
T2, then, is the cost of this choice.
T2 Trainspotting picks up 20 years after the first film with Renton returning to Edinburgh for the first time. The life he (literally) bought into at the end of the original film has gone off the rails.
Unsure of how to move forward, Renton is going back to the beginning. Simon (Sickboy) ridicules Renton for maudlin looking-back.
It’s just nostalgia! You’re a tourist in your own youth. We were young; bad things happened.
This mirrors my favorite line from The Big Chill. Tom Berenger’s character Sam chastises his friends with the line “So what’s the thrust here? We were great then and we’re shit now? I don’t buy that.”
Renton and his former mates are stand-ins for my generation. Now middle aged, Generation X is at that turning point. Squeezed between the over-achieving Boomers and the impatient Millennials.
It’s time to buy-in or get out.
Renton updates the Choose Life speech to express a feeling of being left out and passed over. In a world where everyone has a voice, is anyone listening?
The new version again attacks the consumer culture, this time represented by iPhones and cheap imported clothing. Twenty years on, society is still structured around committing commerce as the path to happiness.
At middle age, Generation X is asking many of the same questions we did in our 20s.
Do we choose from an updated menu of consumer goods and a social media that sells us as their product?
Or can we get off the ride? Opt out?