RogerBW's Blog

Never Let Me Go (2010) 14 January 2023

2010 SF romance, dir. Mark Romanek, Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley: IMDb / allmovie. The generic love triangle plays out over a dark background. Spoilers.

I think I'm frustrated with this film because it's happening halfheartedly on two levels, and I want it to be on at least three. Level 1 is the triangle with the pretty children falling in and out of love. Level 2 is the fact that all these children are clones raised as involuntary organ donors, and their entire education has been designed to prevent them from rebelling against that. The level 3 that I want, but the film only hints at, is the examination of what sort of mind you have when you've been brought up like that, how it survives knowledge of the real world; and level 4 would involve someone getting up enough gumption to run away and try to live as a free clone, and maybe actually try to fight the system. I can't help notice that by the end of this story while our three protagonists have been variously angry, sad, and droopy about their Lot in Life, none of them has ever rebelled in any way that would reduce the value of their organs as transplant materials.

But this is not a science fiction book/film, it's litfic, so I'm not supposed to examine the premises any more than I'm supposed to examine the premises of real life; I'm just meant to take them as they come and concentrate on the characters.

The problem is that the characters are clearly the products of a deeply strange upbringing, but we never see the strangeness of it, and I think that's because Romanek and screenwriter Alex "Jigsaw Man" Garland want the viewer to be lulled into thinking that things are normal, that this is just a restrictive school, until the Big Reveal. But the Big Reveal comes about 24 minutes into the film, and after that we still never see how strange it all is.

I can see what the thing's trying to do, and it does some of it well, but there's never enough tonal consistency to get any actual points across; it's repeatedly saying "look how clever I am" while never genuinely being clever.

Three short stories do a better job of posing and answering this film's Big Questions:

If you want more of my witterings, you should listen to Ribbon of Memes.

  1. Posted by DrBob at 06:11pm on 14 January 2023

    This is one in a long line of films which made me go "Oh, that was interesting. I guess I'd better read the book to get the full story and all the subtleties."

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 06:17pm on 14 January 2023

    And did the book give you the full story and all the subtleties?

    As we've mentioned before on the podcast, "litfic writer does SF" is a bad smell for me, though of course sometimes it can work.

  3. Posted by DrBob at 12:08pm on 15 January 2023

    Yeah it did. Obviously there are more inner thoughts than a film because it is the viewpoint of Kathy. So you get more of the reader thinking "This is weird. Why are they acting that way? Oh now I get it!" A lot of their motivation - never overtly stated - seems to be a desperate search for someone to be a loving parent.

    The one thing that didn't gel with me was that the clones are pretty much left to themselves at the age when most teenagers will be rebelling and pushing every boundary they lay eyes on. I'd have expected more "Did you hear about Jimmy? He got blind drunk, stole a tractor and accidentally drove it off a cliff."

  4. Posted by RogerBW at 12:27pm on 15 January 2023

    Yeah, that was one of the things I wanted the film to look at - are they in fact brought up to be incapable of thinking about rebellion in any way that would reduce their value as bags of pre-matched organs? (Do they, thanks to subconscious conditioning, break out in a cold sweat at the thought of riding a motorcycle, or being in a car without a seat belt on?)

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