Ian Fielding on Never Let Me Go: Lovers not FightersPosted: February 8, 2011
Man is born free but everywhere he is in chains, as Rousseau noted at some point when he wasn’t encouraging women to breastfeed. But sometimes the problem is not so much that we are in chains, but that we don’t even realise that we are in them to begin with.
That’s the problem with our trio of heros in Never Let Me Go, the Alex Garland adapted version of Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2005 sci-fi novel. In a neat take on the wage slaves of the meaningless capitalist treadmill, our isolated stars are clones, born and bred to provide organs for those who require them to survive. After their first three donations, the majority of clones are dead.
Where does a clone find distraction? In affairs of the heart, with the backdrop of impending mortality amplifying the pitch of feeling. Kathy (Carey Mulligan) loves Tommy (Andrew Garfield) yet Tommy is with Ruth (Keira Knightley). The clinch? We know in an unspoken way that Tommy loves Kathy – but he’s quite happy banging Keira Knightley. (what’s he like eh?) Once that dynamic is established the film suspends itself on the constant knife edge of Kathy’s plaintive yearning. At all times we hear the soft thump of Mulligan’s heart in pain, it’s in there rests the film’s hidden force. I love scenes in films where people react to music and there’s a few nice moments of Kathy listening to the cassette tape ‘Never Let Me Go’ that Tommy has given her. The director Mark Romanek never seeks to deploy genre gimmicks or dazzle us with tour-de-force virtuosity and so steers for us a path of pleasant and subdued ambiance, that arches up gently to the occasional emotive swell.
The clones (a smart, sensitive, Carey Mulligan, territorial pisser Keira Knightley, and the shuffling softy with a burning anger within, Andrew Garfield) never quite rise to challenge the authority that will leave them dead in the gutter, instead they empower it with homespun mythologies. This is a backwards tribute to Hailsham, the bleak boarding school they grew up in, and its effective brainwashing.
Those who’ve seen John Carpenter’s ingenious They Live will know that Hailsham is all around us. The media gently manufacture a universal standpoint for us, and as the clones show, it can be all too easy to lap it up. Especially when the majority of voices that we hear are driven by the secret imperative to score some coins. Never before has the species been so focused on coercing itself to part with money as a central recipe for its life. As we slowly converge into a giant selling tool, the way we understand ourselves becomes increasingly superficial. The choice is yours: kick ass now or sit around and wait for the ‘next communism’ to arrive. It almost makes you want to bring back that ol’ blood-sport fav, religion. Thank god for science, art and Carey Mulligan.
Ishiguro knows of another exit through this gift shop, even as his clones lie back on the operating table while surgeons extract their vital organs, the film’s meaning does not turn towards fighting the power but finding the good and true within their controlled universe. They may have been trapped, but they did have love for a while, and that meant the world to them. Ishiguro fucking loves it.
My name’s Ian. I’m a writer and Filmmaker from London currently shooting my second feature film – a detective thriller called Dead Unicorns
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