Never Let Me Go

Two things hit me during the first five minutes of this film. The vulnerability of each of the characters: Kathy H (a brilliant Carey Mulligan), Ruth (Keira Knightley) and Tommy (Andrew Garfield), and their acceptance of the lives that they must lead. They never question that they were created purely to participate in the ‘British Donor Scheme’ where once they reach adulthood they must provide four ‘donations’ of vital organs before reaching ‘completion’- though some donors, as the film ruthlessly points out, do not even survive the first.

Directed by Mark Romanek and adapted from the traumatic novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, this film is a dark tearjerker that leaves you feeling thoroughly miserable and generally unappreciative of the life you have. Having said this, it is a must-see.

The first glimpse the children get of what the outside world thinks of their desperate situation is when one of their school teachers, played by a teary eyed Sally Hawkins, explains “in words that they will understand” what the purpose of their every breath really is. In one of the most depressing scenes she explains “You will never go to America. You will never work in supermarkets. You will never be teachers” and the truth of their doomed existence finally hits home. It is then announced that the teacher has been fired and that Hailsham’s fight for what is “right” shall continue, at which point all of the children applaud and cheer, except for Kathy and Tommy, who seem to sense that things have not improved.

The opening part of the film focuses on their childhood life at Hailsham, a “special” English boarding school where young donor clones are brought up in the safest and healthiest manner possible. We learn later in the film that Hailsham has closed, and that its new contemporaries are more like battery farms for donors, which makes their boarding school prison seem like it was a stroke of fortune. In a memorable scene, a cricket ball lands beyond the school boundaries, and no-one runs to fetch it due to the fear induced by false stories that have been embedded in their memories.

The second segment observes the trio as young adults getting a taste of ‘real life’ by living at an establishment called ‘the cottages’ where they help on a farm and meet fellow donors to learn from. Here we get a sense of Kathy’s bitter regret at letting Tommy slip through her fingers after he was seduced by Ruth at school. We see that Tommy is still as emotionally fragile now as he was then, particularly when the subject of “deferrals” arises, where special case Hailsham students are permitted a few years together before embarking on their donations- if they can prove they are truly in love.

In the final section of this harrowing film, Kathy has become a carer, whose donations have been delayed while she volunteers to support donors as they undergo some of their last surgeries. By chance she finds Ruth, who has become critically weakened by her second donation, and together they locate Tommy, and spend a day on the beach near a decrepit old boat, reminiscing about the past and considering what little is left of their future. Taking an earlier walk through the woods, Ruth’s frailty is emphasized by their arrival at a rusty locked gate. “No” she exclaims suddenly, “No-one said anything about a locked farm gate”.

The panoramic shots of the open countryside induce a feeling of freedom into the film, though we understand that this is a false guise, that the characters have no realistic escape from their fate. Inserted between each scene there are often memorable images, such as the cricket ball abandoned in the rain, or the lonely boat anchored on dry shore. Such images remind the audience of the sheer isolation each of the donors must experience at some point. The striking moment when a dying Ruth emerges from the bathroom supported solely by a zimmer-frame is evocative of someone dying from cancer, indeed each of the clones’ donations means in some ways they too have an incurable disease. The perpetual ‘beep’ as the donors check in and out with their magnetised bracelets somehow reminded me of the holocaust; each of the imprisoned characters has been given a codename, like a number, and their purpose in the end if to die for someone else’s cause.

In the last shot of the film, Kathy is reflecting in voiceover on her childhood and the brief time she had with the two people she really loved, as well as contemplating if the lives of the people they donate to are actually desirable, as eventually they share the same fate. You certainly start thinking about the validity of her thoughts, on living life to the full, ensuring time is well spent, because after all, “We all complete”.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.