Never Let Me Go
How do you deal with a truth so horrific it embodies your entire existence? Do you cling to any rumored hopes that it’s not as bad as it seems? Do you find something to occupy yourself with to distract from what’s all around? Do you grow bitter and spiteful? Or do you scream, impotently, at the impending nightfall?
I have difficulty calling “Never Let Me Go” anything but science fiction, although it won’t seem like it on the surface to most people. In this world, an unspecified medical breakthrough took place in 1952; by 1967, life expectancy had shot past 100 — for most people. But this gain was achieved by advances in organ transplants, which could now cure almost any affliction. All that was required was a steady supply of organs on demand.
And to fill that need, the government has set up a system of — well, “clones” isn’t quite accurate but there’s really no better term. They’re created, raised in something like a boarding school to be as healthy as possible, and then wait around for their “donations” to begin. After three or four — sometimes less, sometimes more — they “complete” on the operating table and are left to be cleaned up with the scalpels and latex gloves.
This isn’t “The Time Machine”, where the Morlock underclass eventually rises up against the Eloi. Like the best dystopian science fiction, the action plays out within this world and not against it. The best hopes any donor has is to delay a while by volunteering as a carer, who will tend to other donors as they recover from their donations, or to obtain a “deferral”, which rumors insist are available to donor couples who can prove that they’re in love. Unfortunately it seems to be something of an urban legend.
The movie plays out in three views into the lives of three donors, Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Ruth (Keira Knightley), and Tommy (Andrew Garfield). The first shows them at 11, when they first come to understand their fate. The second is at 18, as they leave their school and start to wait for their donations to begin. The third comes at 28, when Kathy is a carer and Ruth and Tommy have both made their second donation. As we watch, we struggle to come to terms with their world as they have.
The mood is set beautifully by Romanek. The day’s light begins in the late afternoon, and it seems to always be autumn. Sunset and winter are immanent before we even begin. The palette is stocked with greys and pale greens, and even the brightest scenes are sickly, knowing what horrors are always looming just around the bend. It is a lovely movie, but a cold one; the truth, once released, cannot be escaped, but only dealt with somehow.
Worth it: yes, with the caveat that this must be numbered among the most depressing movies I have ever seen.
Bechdel test: pass.