I finally got round to watching Never Let Me Go yesterday, the film adaptation of the Kazuo Ishiguro novel of the same name. The screenplay was written by Alex Garland and is, apparently (I’ve not read the novel), very faithful to the book. The director is Mark Romanek, who made a pretty good job of One Hour Photo, but is better known for his music video work which includes Johnny Cash’s Hurt and, going right back to the start of his career, The The’s Sweet Bird of Truth. The casting has been put together with a great deal of care and includes Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, Sally Hawkins, Charlotte Rampling, and regrettably, Keira Knightly. Keira is swine amongst these pearls. Not only can she not act, she also looks like the underside of a clog.
The film looks beautiful and the direction is confident and subtle. There is a huge problem though: the story. There are so many plot holes here, that the film stock looks like a cheese grater. The story dramatises a parallel present and past. It is set over five decades from the 1950s where we see the three main characters, Kathy, Ruth and Tommy as children growing up in an English boarding school, to their ‘completion’ (a euphemism for death) as human clones in the 1990s. The world is only different to our world in one significant way: in this world cloning of humans is not only possible but is practiced routinely. The clones are separated from the rest of society and brought up together until their ‘originals’ need their organs. Clones rarely survive four organ donations. Some don’t survive one. Apart from this, everything else is the same. The same cars, shops, telecommunication systems. The same hospitals. We are expected to believe that this advance in science has happened in isolation and has no effect on any other aspect of this world.
In other words, we are expected to believe that while science has advanced to enable human cloning, it hasn’t advanced to enable replication of human organs, which would be the more humane system and would render cloning for organ donation redundant. Moreover, we are expected to believe that this society which is an exact replica of ours with the exception of this one facet, would not take issue with the obvious moral dubiousness of the practice of what is essentially human battery farming. In addition to this, we are expected to believe that none of the clones would take issue with what is expected of them, or that their ‘originals’ would raise questions, or develop any growing feelings of injustice. There are no signs of any dissenting voices in the story with the early exception of a school teacher. Where does she go? Why doesn’t she rise up? Where are the protests?
We are also expected to believe that there are vast numbers of people living beyond 100 years because of this ‘advancement’ although we never see any evidence of this, and we never deal with any of the societal complications this would create. What is the impact of this economically? What is the impact of this more broadly? Where is the anger? Where is the outrage? I find this story absolutely incredulous, completely lacking into any insight into how humans behave.
What I think has happened here is that Ishiguro has written an autobiographical account of a Japanese boy growing up through an English education system, finding it quite alien, falling in love and coming of age. This is at heart a frustrated love triangle story between the three main characters (who it has to be said, are not very interesting). In other words, this is a very ordinary period drama about three very dull people. It is also not a very marketable story, or one that would gain the writer any attention, so he has grafted on the cloning story to make it have poignancy, relevance and originality, without bothering to really think about the logical world of the story, the ethics of this world, or the science of it. There is no light and shade here, only growing darkness. The film gets darker and darker until it reaches its morbid denouement. The film received a warm reception and was largely praised by critics. Few have wanted to point out the massive plot holes. But for me, what was meant to be a haunting depiction of love and death, was spoiled by a narrative that lacks even surface credulity.