BOOM! First ever twin-media reviewstravaganza! Today, ladies and gentlemen, I will be reviewing both the book, and the movie, Never Let me Go. Yes, despite what the lack of book reviews on the blog may insinuate, I do still read. The problem is lately I have read very many good books, and critiquing good literature has always proved problematic for me. My own amateurish prose doesn’t ever seem to do justice to the source material. Bashing drivel, however, comes easy. I did recently finish Stephen’s King’s The Dark Tower Series Book VII The Dark Tower by Stephen King, but I don’t think a hard drive large enough to store the word file I would need exists. Additionally, as wonderful as the English language is, words disparaging enough to accurately describe King’s self-ascribed masterpiece don’t reside inside any dictionary. Try looking at a late-era Jackson Pollack painting; that is the plot of the Dark Tower. I find myself digressing. Luckily, I also just finished Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, and that I can adequately bash in a blog post. I also saw the superboring movie of the same name, which I can also bash in a blog post. Here we go!
Be warned, my treasured audience, spoilers lie ahead. The novel itself is set up so that the actual premise isn’t revealed until about halfway through, so there’s just no way around giving classified info away. Basically, the novel is Michael Bay’s The Island, except it features a lot less explosions and people falling off skyscrapers via building signs, and much more emotional introspection. Scarlett Johansson’s boobs also get far less screen time in Never Let Me Go. The book/movie takes place in an alternate reality England, unfortunately, where clones are created and grown as sort of organ farms for transplants to extend the lives of “real” humans. The clones are raised in a kind of psychological captivity until their early 20’s, when they start donating their organs and die soon after. The plot concerns itself with the tear-jerking lives of 3 British, unfortunately, clones from childhood to adulthood to donating-hood to death.
The novel is told through the perspective of Kathy H, played by Carey Mulligan in the film, who is judgmental, hypocritical, a master of self-delusion, and overly spiteful. She’s basically me with tits and a British accent. Strangely enough, I couldn’t stand her…I’m taking this up with my psychologist. Kathy grows up at a preppy clonedonor boarding school named Hailsham, which is a bit of an experiment run by a hippyish faculty based on the idea that clonedonor children might be human beings with souls and feelings. It’s not ever really clear why The ‘Sham’s faculty is out to prove the clones’ humanity; they certainly never seem intent on stopping the whole process, of which the audience only learns very little. We do gather fairly early on that not all boarding homes are as cushy as The ‘Sham. Kathy is tight with Ruth, who grows up to be superhot Keira Knightley (can I have one of her clones?), but is equally hateful a person. Luckily for Ruth, she’s superhot, which makes up for a lot of character flaws. Their trinity is completed by Tommy, Andrew Garfield in the film, who I’m pretty sure is retarded. I don’t mean that as a derogatory attack; I really think he has some serious, Flowers for Algernon learning disabilities.
The first 3rd of the book/movie takes place in Hailsham, and is sort of Kathy’s memoir of their youth. In the novel, we theoretically don’t know anything about clonedonating yet, so it’s a bit deeper in that lies and ambiguities are gradually peeled back; it’s actually very effective in the novel, and keeps the pages turning. The movie, however, starts out with a text exposition explaining how in the 1950’s cloning was discovered, and in the 60’s people decided to clone humans for organs, so the screen adaptation takes away the pleasure of any foreplay; it’s just full-on missionary sex from the beginning. The overall effect is similar though, in that the audience always knows more about the clonedonors’ condition than they themselves do, but we are real humans, after all. The clonedonors’ acceptance of their tragic fate is puzzling and unsettling; shouldn’t it be human nature to want to live, or something? And yet, even as a human audience, it does not seem so far-fetched that these people(?), who are raised and educated from infancy as sterile bodies housing replacement parts for real humans, would accept and even fully embrace their purpose. The critique on human education, and its power to control and be used, is not thinly veiled. Escape and life never occur to them as possibilities, for they have never been presented to them as such. Instead, they take pride in their donations, and in caring for each other, hoping to live long enough not for the sake of living itself, but for the chance to donate a 4th of 5th time.
Both the film and the novel are presented through Kathy’s limited perspective, so we never get a hearty glimpse at the real world out there, which is good, since it takes place in England. The story stays focused on the 3 main characters; it is very much a personal tale, which is why the movie is such a contrast to the previously mentioned Michael Bay explosionanza though their plots are seemingly similar. I may have misspoken (written?) earlier; the movie and novel are not really about clones in the future, they are about Kathy and Tommy’s love for each other, and about Ruth’s selfish mistakes and regrets. The clone stuff is strictly secondary. I’m usually all for deep character development and looking at Keira Kinghtley for 2 hours, but, in this case, it’s somewhat problematic, since Ishiguro creates an interesting world I would have liked to further explore. However, he did not set out to write a Brave New World-type future allegory world, stark and unrelateable in its dystopian sterility. No, Ishiguro’s goal is strictly to make his audience feel sad and cry, a goal capably shared by the film.
Any information we get about the outside world as a whole is implied, never directly stated, in the novel. But of course, Kathy herself has a very imperfect understanding of her environment, so how could she impart anything more to the reader? This is all perfectly fine in theory, but all the characters are mostly uninteresting, so it’s a slow go. For all the time both the novel and movie spend on alleged character development, the characters in the story are never anything more than paper-thin instruments through which the audience can be made to cry.
The film unfortunately shares all of the novel’s flaws, but none of its strong points. Honestly, if you share major plot and thematic elements with a Michael Bay movie, and the Michael Bay movie is better, your film may have some problems. I don’t recommend Never Let Me Go in either medium, but if you like your tears jerked, give them a try. Everyone else seems to have loved the stuff, so I might just be a weird, unfeeling machine.