Never Let Me Go
starring Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, and Andrew Garfield
directed by Mark Romanek
written by Alex Garland
based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro
20th Century Fox (2010)
Since we are creeping ever closer to the uncomfortable question of sentience and human rights towards human clones, Never Let Me Go offers a forum in which to explore the subject. The setting it provides winds up rather dystopian, too.
Hailsham seems like one of those idyllic British private schools of yesteryear, but this one has a school population of a much more unsettling nature. Every student in Hailsham is a clone, created ultimately for the sole purpose of harvesting their organs to prolong the lives of real humans. It's not a near future setting though, instead offering an alternate universe where the science advances take place in the wake of World War II.
For the three main characters, Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy, the real world feels as alien to them as their world does to us. All they know is the school, never leaving the grounds as rules and rumors act as leashes about their necks. They are educated about the world in a very filtered fashion, since their future--held secret from them until their teen years--is so bleak. It's during their formative years that Kathy endears herself to Tommy, a troubled boy who finds himself a bit of an outcast in a school of outcasts. But when her best friend, Ruth, undermines her by pursuing Tommy as a love interest, Kathy winds up seeking something else to fill her heart--a life as a "carer" who acts as a companion to other clones as they undergo one organ extraction after another.
The alien concept of clone farms is juxtaposed brilliantly by the mundanity of a British township. Nothing exists visually in the film to lead you into thinking this is a sci-fi film, which is both an effort to avoid the sci-fi label, as well as a way to draw the audience in to a familiar word with an unfamiliar concept. As for the love triangle played out over the years in this story, it doesn't feel the least bit hokey, despite Carey Mulligan's prim and proper demeanor that veers dangerously close to Jane Austen territory. Sacrifice, betrayal, forgiveness are all explored and make for a genuinely engrossing movie.
This is one of those sci-fi films that very flagrantly tries to distance itself from the genre. The director, Mark Romanek, even goes so far as to describe the film as "a love story where the science fiction is this subtle patina on the story." I'm not sure how much the novel's author, Kazuo Ishiguro, tries to avert the sci-fi label, but it's a shame that a movie like this can be appreciated as both a love story and a sci-fi story--because it is clearly both and a fair bit more.