Never Let Me Go: Bleakness Without a Heartbeat

Disclaimer: This story is almost impossible to discuss without spoiling it. So I'll talk about it in general terms, then put up a big bad spoiler warning.

"Life's a bitch, and then you die." Is that the moral of this story? If so, I can scarcely think of anything more anti-human. I've just read twenty glowing reviews of Never Let Me Go, and while I agree with many of their points, I can't help it. I just didn't like it. Try as I might, I have a reflexive distaste for movies that are completely humorless, lacking even the bad taste appeal of unintentional humor.

Unrelentingly bleak, there were no tonal shifts at all, which muted the horror that is the basis of the story. From beginning to end, the movie is bathed in unsaturated colors, the piano tinkles melodramatically, and even the seaside looks drab and unsettling.

Keira Knightley was wasted in the only potentially interesting role, reduced to big dramatic scenes without emotional hooks. All three actors do a splendid job, but the job description was apparently to look blank while hinting at an undercurrent of sadness.


I think the fundamental point for me is that there was nothing to cling onto as the audience. We learn the truth early on, that these characters are factory children whose only purpose is to donate organs to their originals until their own bodies fall apart and they die. Then, with that premise, 3/4 of the movie attends to this bizarre love triangle which is impossible to care about when you know that there's this not-so-secret darkness propping up society in alternate Britain.

The characters never show any curiosity about what life on the other side is like, there's no interest at all except when Ruth is told that someone else spotted her 'original' in town. And once she sees that the spotter was wrong, back they go to their self-enforced imprisonment. It boggles the mind that the clones are allowed to move through society freely, and yet they never choose to, not even once.

Also, once they learn their fate, they don't bother fighting it. The movie seems to suggest this is some sort of British period piece stiff upper lip nonsense, but no one is that accepting of their fate. No one. After taking such pains in the Hailsham scenes to establish that these children are as human as any other, how could they then behave in a manner so inhuman?

The only scene that remains in the memory is the one and only time Kathy H. and Tommy try to do something about their fate. They hear that the donations can be deferred if they are a couple in true love. So they visit their old headmistress in an attempt to persuade her, and then the really dark truth comes out. That they were the last batch to be 'educated' as normal human beings. That the public is more comfortable thinking of them as science freaks trapped in a lab than living, breathing humans. That there is no such thing as deferral, for any reason. That the whole experiment was to test if the clones had souls. And once that was found true, then the public decided to deny that knowledge entirely.

See that's dark. There could have been a truly human story told there. But there wasn't. And that's why the movie is so disappointing to me.

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