Watched a depressing movie on a recent long flight—the only chance I get to see non-family fare. Not that I'm complaining; I doubt I'm missing much. But this movie, “Never Let Me Go,” based on a novel by Japanese-British author Kazuo Ishiguro, struck me as important. It was unrelentingly dire, as only Japanese or British things can be, lacking either the Christian certainty of redemption by the movie's end, or even the pagan Greek sense of an inevitability and a justice to the fall. Yet it was right in this case—that is, it was accurate to the realities involved. It was just very hard to watch, and very hard to recover from watching.
The story is science fiction, but set in an alternative present. Cloning has been discovered, in the 1950s, and, in a society cheerily confident that clones are not human beings, a generations or two of clones have been raised by the time of the movie specifically to supply replacement organs until they “complete”--i.e., die from it. In this way, society has extended the life expectancy of the average non-clone to a wizened century or more.
The move is, inevitably, told from the point of view of the clones themselves: befriending, sharing childhood fears, falling in love, being murdered by degrees. They show an eerie acceptance of their fate which is itself profoundly disturbing—there is no thought of revolt or true escape; only attempts to bargain around the edges. They are held in check in part, as the truly oppressed always are, by self-loathing. They inevitably buy in to the socially dominant view and even believe among themselves that they are not entirely real.
I am amazed that the movie ever got made—though not suprised to hear it ended its first run as “an undeniable financial disappointment.” Did the backers understand what it is about?
After all, what really did happen in the 1950s? The sexual revolution. The movie shows more or less exactly what has happened to a significant portion of the generations since then, their lives and futures systematically sacrificed to the pleasures of those elders already here.
Imagine, in the first place, if all those aborted children, between then and now, had instead been allowed to grow up and only been aborted when their internal organs became useful. The principle is the same, and it would in a way be both more morally justifiable and more humane. And of course, the victims of abortion are as completely powerless as those in the movie; there can be no thought of revolt or escape.
But it is not just the aborted who are in this position, either. It is all the children raised without fathers, thanks to all those no-fault divorces with big payouts to the Mom and restraining orders given on a woman's testimony alone. It is all the children raised without much if any parental attention at all, thanks to mothers off in the workforce fulfilling themselves and making the big bucks; just like the hopeless clones of the movie, parentless, in their state schools. Overly rich and unfunded pension schemes locked in by law are the least of this shameless exploitation of the young, though they have been in the news a lot lately.
Am I the only one who notices that this film is a documentary, and not science fiction? After all, nobody else seems to realize this about the similarly bleak 1984, and it's been around since 1948.
As for the film, I predict it will live more or less as long as the civilization does. The best movies rarely do well on their first run.