Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go ★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Spoiler that I'm going to ruin the book for you, in the sense of describing something a large number of people seem to miss, at least as far as some comments Kazuo Ishiguro has made about it:

Seriously don't read if you might want to enjoy the book and figure it out for yourself...:

So the characters have shorter lifespans that the average person because of their fate as organ donors.

Kazuo has spoken about how part of the point of his story is the difference between expectation and a sense of loss through the conduit of these characters. Part of the point of his story is that the character's live a lifetime's worth in the shorter time they have to live freely, in their own ways. This is a rumination of how much time we expect, and how we use time when we have certain expectations of how long a lifespan is. In the case of the donors, their lack of terror and panic at the lifespan they have and the fact they were never led to expect more go hand in hand.

This is an important existential question and one that everyone would do well to ponder more. Do we use time well when we know historically that biologically human beings can live to be 80, or 90 or over 100? Does thinking we have a lot of time make us dispense our time like it isn't precious? Would we live more deliberate lives if we only expected to live to 50, or 30? Is our sense of loss misplaced when we fill our lives with excuses not to do things now, wasting our own time, not doing until it's urgent, another misplaced concept linked to an alienation from the concept of time.

The characters' acceptance, mostly, of their expected years is more like if we were to meet a species (or even as per this point, other humans) who lived typically to 200 years or such; our 100 ish years would still feel normal and other people having 200 would not be an instant source of panic because we would still feel the same about a potential century of living. We cannot feel cheated out of something we never expected to have, and you can't miss what you never had. In the case of Ishiguro's world, the character never expect 80 or 100 years. Its about a different culture and demonstrates a different reaction to time.

Yet people seem to mostly only feel an abject horror of how awful it would be to learn you are a reserved product, set aside in society for organ vultures elsewhere. People shudder at the prospect of having so much time taken away, good time where you could do so much, potentially live so much, have an amazing life. The overt abuse of one's rights, the unfairness of being chosen in such a system, the exploitation.

This is very true, but also missing a great point so rarely made. I remember reading things like the Guardian with an, ahem, reviewer I usually disagree with and rolling my eyes at their description of this as basically a horror movie.

I admire Kazuo Ishiguro for this daring subtext, not only for the existential point so richly delivered even if often misunderstood (people question why the donors didn't just run away, as if their own cultural thinking has anything to do with how these characters think) but also as an organ recipient. The psychological adjustment a person makes when moving the line of how many good years they thought they had in front of them is probably existentially comparable to the journeys of self awareness the characters go through. And it is often an opportunity, even when still terrifying and tragic, but often an opportunity to adjust one's thinking about time instead of years. It's also nice to see a story finding a novel angle on donorship instead of just the 'Coma' approach.

With that in mind, I felt the film was not very good. Certainly very little rumination on the perception or arbitrary judgement of time is cultivated, and it feels like a missed opportunity. Perhaps there is no way around that for some people; perhaps the subtext could only be reached by some if the story used a premise segregated from projecting your own fears, something of pure sci fi, like Logan's Run. The number of people who only comment on the horror of the premise testifies to that; it is difficult to get past the viewers' possessiveness of their own organs. To many it feels like an generically incongruous nightmare and nothing else, and that makes the adaptation a small failure.