Sunday, November 20, 2011

Never Let Me Go (2010) ****

“Never Let Me Go” is a science fiction story of sorts set in an alternate present that is different from ours only in that the science of organ and tissue transplantation has been perfected so that it is widely used to greatly extend and improve most people’s lives. To meet the demand for organs, cloned human beings are created and raised in special schools so that their organs can be harvested when they reach adulthood. This heartbreaking film is their story.

The tale starts with Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Tommy (Andrew Garfield), and Ruth (Keira Knightley) as children. They have no idea that their life in a boarding school is any different from anyone else’s reality. They just know that they are never allowed off the school grounds, and that a couple of times a year a truckload of used toys, books, and clothes is brought around…a very exciting time for them. Kathy and Tommy develop a natural bond and seem destined for young love, but Kathy’s jealous friend, Ruth, steps in and makes Tommy her boyfriend first. Locked in this unyielding love triangle, the three grow into young adults, and the time approaches for them to start making the organ “donations” that will weaken and then kill them.

Interestingly, the young clones never openly question their status as cattle. They are allowed to wander freely, but none seem to attempt to escape their surgical fate. Still, their yearning for a human identity comes out in various ways, such as their widespread desire to find their “original,” the person from whose genes they were cloned. There is also a widespread myth among the clones that if a young couple can prove that they are truly in love with each other, they will be given a deferral of a few years to live together before beginning their donations.

As a young woman, Kathy is given the job of a “carer,” a clone whose donation time is delayed while they help other clones recover from their operations. This system presumably helps maximize the number of healthy organs that can be used from each clone before they die. In this job, Kathy is reunited with her old friends Tommy and Ruth, both weakened from organ removals, and the three get a chance to resolve some of the issues of their youthful friendship against the bitter backdrop of their foreshortened adult lives.

The question that immediately comes to mind is, “How can people allow a system like this to exist?” The answer, of course, is to look at slavery or segregation. Seemingly good people will do incredible ethical acrobatics to justify to themselves an arrangement that benefits them. In “Never Let Me Go” we eventually learn that there was initially some public outcry against the cloning, but that the public was so pleased with the health benefits of the transplants that such resistance eventually subsided. Meanwhile, one would think that the clones would try to escape their fate, but it seems that a lifetime of being told what their place is keeps them quiescent enough.

“Never Let Me Go” is an atypical sci-fi movie, set as it is in a gray, quaint, recent-past England, but parallels can be drawn to “Bladerunner.” Like the replicants in “Bladerunner,” the clones are created for the uses of others, and they face an untimely death surrounded by an uncaring world. Their desperate efforts to love and live as much as they can in the little time they have, and to make some sense of their cruelly short lives is, of course, a mirror of our own struggles. In the joy, regrets, bitterness, and even acceptance of Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth we see our own lives.

“Never Let Me Go” is a wonderfully made, well-acted film. It isn’t something to watch if you are looking for a barrel of laughs, but when you are ready for a thought-provoking drama, this is one to check out.

4 stars out of 5

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