I could have played nice and reviewed the latest Harry Potter film. But what’s the point? First off, I will not be paying to see a complete film, and second, well, it’s already going to make more money in it’s opening weekend than the country of Latvia makes in a year. People will probably not care what I say; they have already made up their minds.
So instead I want to talk about a film that has won good reviews but has not been seen by nearly as many people as it should: Mark Romanek’s Never Let Me Go. It is the right film to come out at the right time. It is also quite bleak, but you would not realize this watching it the first time. The strength of the film is not about what the film says, but about what it does not say.
The film starts by informing us of medical enhancements that increased the life expectancy “past one hundred years.” How? By cloning people and, when they reach a certain age, harvesting their organs. Thee kids are raised in what appears to be an exclusive British prep school. The film focuses on three of them; Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Tommy (Andrew Garfield), and Ruthie (Keira Knightley). They grow up, they discover love, and they try to see if there are any ways to get out of the commitment that they have to end their lives prematurely.
Of course, when I talk about the plot, I am doing so based solely on the little information that it reveals. At first, I was bothered, but then I realized how much this made perfect sense. The “donors” in the film would not, exactly, be taught to rebel. Hence why there is no great rebellion against this system. It is what has become the norm.
This is quite different from most dystopian fiction, in which everything is explained to death, with characters constantly explaining how bad everything has become and how they should rebel and return to the old ways. Usually this absolutely destroys any sense of wonder and, ironically, the desire to think for oneself (this is what made The Handmaid’s Tale so bad). To see something this refreshingly original in its tone is enough to make me recommend it on those strengths alone.
Everything about this approach makes sense. It takes a certain film to ask questions – it takes a far better film to have the audience make up their own minds. I have said it before, but it bears constant repeating; the best films are the ones that give audiences something to think about. The worst films are the ones that tell the audiences what to think.
And that is why what some consider a lack of sentimentality is a strength. Very rarely do the characters show any emotions, rebel about their fates, or otherwise try to understand what is happening and why. They are caught up in their own basic desires, but they never pause to think about the larger picture. But what of it? As I have stated, they would not be allowed to do so (one teacher who even tries to explain it to them ends up fired, with the headmaster of the school talking about insubordination). Those feelings that they have are all that they have for each other.
I could discuss how bizarre the whole idea is. If you can clone humans, wouldn’t it just be simpler to clone the organs? Or, better yet, if you must use humans, why allow them to become as developed as the characters in the film are? Aren’t there moral implications to deliberately treating human beings as livestock, killing them before they even reach a certain age.
Apparently it does. That is the whole point of the film – what makes a human a human. “We did not look into your soul” the headmaster of the school tells the children. “We wanted to see if you had souls at all.”
It seems like such smart films as this are becoming fewer and fewer. I am not sure if the modern ADD riddled audiences would be able to tolerate the pacing; they would practically demand a complete explanation of the process. That would hinder the film; it is not about what it says, but about what it does not say. I have a feeling that, within a few short years, we as a society will have to be asking ourselves these very same questions. And then people will be kicking themselves that they missed the warnings.