I watched the movie Never Let Me Go recently (released 2010) without knowing much about it. I quickly found myself deeply engrossed in the story, despite the fact it’s about as far from my typical action packed or sci-fi genre that I prefer. It’s a slow movie, but with a gripping and unique love story. Shocking, actually.
The story is set in the 1960s and 70s, not a futuristic film, in a hypothetical but real world where medical technology allows people to live well past 100 years of age. To enable a higher quality of life, clones are born and raised to harvest organs and body parts for other citizens. Usually from degenerates, likely because they’re paid money for the service.
Three kids growing up in the English countryside, attending a special orphanage called Haisham House – a beautiful mansion estate in the English countryside – become close friends. Kathy, a thoughtful, girl-next-door type, played by Carey Mulligan, becomes very close to Tommy (Andrew Garfield), an unpopular and ungifted child who is constantly picked on and ridiculed by the other children. Ruth, played by the beautiful model, Keira Knightley, is Kathy’s best friend, who takes no interest in Tommy initially. When she discovers Kathy and Tommy starting to become close, she decides she wants Tommy and steals him from Kathy. Tommy and Kathy are seemingly a perfect fit, soul-mates. But Kathy’s passive nature forces her to the sidelines, always hoping but never realizing the love they were destined to share.
All the children of Haisham House discover the real purpose of their lives one day. It’s a moment of somber reality. None of them can ever have a future, or live a normal life. When they are young adults, they will be harvested for their healthy body parts, one organ at a time, until they finally die. Ironically, they label these clones, “doners”, despite the fact they seem to have no choice and no legal rights or protections. The house is merely a special orphanage for future donors, basically a high end farm for the rich to ensure well-fed, nutritioned and healthy organs when required. But these clones are not owned by the originator, but on a generic health need basis, based upon, presumably, the amount of money you can afford, all of which is run by a National Donor Program. Haisham House is a premium facility for the rich. By the time the kids become young adults, they begin going through a series of organ and body part operations to “donate” to the unhealthy patient, allowing them to live, at the expense of the clones.
A small number of the clones can become Carers, based on qualifications, who help those going through the operations and help with recovery following each operation. Kathy becomes a Carer. Ruth and Tommy are relegated to ordinary Doners and an early death.
If you get accepted as a Carer, they are delayed from having to become a donor for about 10 years. So Carey sees all of childhood friends dying early in life, usually after their third or fourth donation.
Ruth and Tommy ultimately split up, when Carey had gone away to school to become a Carer. This event causes all three of the friends to go their separate ways.
One of the quotes from the movie I loved:
“It has never occurred to me that our lives, which had been so closely interwoven, could unravel with such speed. If I had known, maybe I would’ve kept tighter hold of them. And not let unseen tides pull us apart.”
As we go through our lives, we usually always discover this truth – almost always too late.
In the end, the love that should’ve always been, finally becomes. Kathy and Tommy finally find their love, briefly, despite Tommy being on his third operation and about to die.
It’s not a typical love story. Not to ruin the ending, but it’s not a fairy tale ending as most love stories are. Despite its deep fictional underpinning, there’s a tremendous sense of realism about life.
This story isn’t set in some futuristic or sci-fi setting, as with most stories along this type of theme, but it seems and feels like normal life, our life.
It’s not a movie for everyone, but I absolutely loved it. It was a thought provoking story about life and love, about the relative value of humanity – paralleled against today’s economic class system, and the moral implications of this.
The most insight probably came at the end of the movie, as Kathy finally begins her donor operations that had been postponed while she was a Carer. All her friends had already died. She was the last, but her life had essentially ended too, long before the final operation.
The movie comes full circle, finally understanding her voice-over remarks from the opening scene, when Kathy realizes she looked forward to reminiscing the past, especially her childhood, rather than her life that lays ahead.
Isn’t that really the point when we all actually die? When our future seems less meaningful than our past memories. And we spend more time in the past, than the present, or dreaming of the future.