“We didn’t have to look into your souls; we had to see if you had souls at all.”
NEVER LET ME GO (2010) Hailsham’s boarding school was for “special” children. It placed emphasis on their creativity, health, and happiness. The children had everything that they could need at Hailsham. However, there was a subtle and uneasy calm about the school. Children were not allowed to progress beyond the boundaries of the school’s manicured grounds where everything seemed oddly perfect. There was never an initial hint as to why the children were there.
Everything seems innocent and carefree. One day, however, a guilt-ridden Guardian explains that their lives are not their own—at least the way they dreamed it to be—that the children were a manufacturer, a clone, created for the sole purpose of donating their organs to save “original” people. Strangely, the children accept their fate—probably a result of being institutionalized.
As adults, Tommy (Garfield), Ruth (Knightley), and Kathy (Mulligan) are moved to the Cottages, located in the English countryside, to mature until it was time for their first organ donation. It is at this point in the story that the relationships of the three blossom—for the first time, they are introduced to television and begin taking trips to the small town nearby. As for Ruth and Tommy, their relationship becomes more intimate, with Kathy longingly observing from the sidelines as the man she loves with someone else. The news becomes too much for Kathy, who then decides to become a “carer,” or someone who cares for a “donor” until completion as a way of distancing herself from Tommy and Ruth.
Many years later, their paths cross again—this time, Ruth and Tommy have already begun their process to “completion.” Ruth, needing redemption after separating Kathy from Tommy years ago, provides them both with information that they can use to delay their donation processes for a chance of a few more years of life together.
The film is narrated by the voice of Kathy, telling her heartfelt story, mentioning words like “carers,” “donors,” and “completes,” and as the film progresses, secrets and the meanings of those words will start to reveal the sad realities of their lives.
Having not read Ishiguro’s novel afforded me the opportunity to view this film exactly for what it is: one with impeccable cinematography, and near-flawless acting performances by Knightly, beautiful and intelligent, and Garfield, awkward and vulnerable. But it is Carey Mulligan whose calm and mature demeanor throughout the film helps to create this wonderful melancholy of worn and broken things—and by this, I mean their characters, Tommy, Kathy, and Ruth. Knowing what will happen to the trio is not a huge emphasis on the film, but what’s important is how well the viewer absorbs every aspect of each moment of life between the friends, as they embrace their chances to live and love.
I did not want to remember this film as just any other dystopian tale. Instead, it was a subtle reminder of an undermining aspect of humankind’s infallible ability to control, harvest, and break those believed to be vulnerable and soulless. Never Let Me Go served only to prove that there are certain things about life that just aren’t fair. It is just fairer than death; that’s all.