Saturday, February 12, 2011

Never Let Me Go (2010)

This film gave me nightmares. One of its implications is that if Roy Batty had gone to an English country boarding school, he might have been a little more accepting of his condition as a replicant.

Kazuo Ishiguro's novel has been adapted for the screen by Alex Garland, and it must be said that even the latter's erstwhile directorial collaborator Danny Boyle would have struggled to find the feel-good vibe in this material. So it's not hard to see why the movie bombed stateside, and why it will tend to torment any audience in need of neatly-gathered explanations. (And yet it remains a travesty that for this reason in the main it has been locked out of the awards season. How, for example, has Andrew Garfield been BAFTA nominated for The Social Network and not for his role here as Tommy?)

I too struggled with the plausibility of it all for the first hour or so. This is an alternative post-war Britain, familiarly grim yet with a precocious capability for deploying gene-based therapies in the fight against cancer and ageing in general. This might sound a bit like science fiction, but Ishiguro isn't the least interested in the science of it, or indeed how this society made the moral leap (or tumble) towards using clones as part of a living repository of spare-parts. So once you start interrogating the narrative as a naturalistic piece — like, how does someone survive one, let alone three vital organ transplants? — you are entering a world of potential frustration.

It's possible that this effect of dissonance was reduced in the novel, which was written in the first person — for Kathy has been kept largely in the dark, and her ignorance on these technical matters has a narrative purpose that is hard to recreate on screen. Garland has lifted parts of her monologue, setting them as voiceover interludes, and the last of these reinforced the sense I already had that this story should be taken as a disturbing parable about human mortality, loss and about how we all, to a greater or lesser extent, find ways to suppress our rage at the 'dying of the light'.

I'd still perhaps have liked a bit more on the specific educational mechanisms that permitted the clones to not really know what they know, but in the end I came to see the very implausibility of this tale as one of its virtues. And right now when I am myself toying with a futuristic fictional conceit, and wondering how to handle all of its implications across an imagined world, such a realisation is genuinely tantalising.

Ishiguro's blend of English and Japanese sensibilities and his obvious fascination with repressed emotion continue to fascinate me. Last year I read The Remains of the Day and, nightmares or not, I have been encouraged to seek out this book too some time in the near future.

Grade: A-

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