Thursday, September 30, 2010
Never Let Me Go: The Book & The Movie
Most films that have been adapted from a book tend to not live up to the book experience. And Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro is no exception.
I finally read the book a few months ago, and it is slow, and layered and rich, and quite methodical in its pacing. And it's worth the read. Getting inside the head of Kathy H. and her memories of childhood is a haunting journey. Kathy has no future and therefore, can't look ahead, so all she can do is look back. Kathy is a clone. A donor. Created for organ harvesting in an alternate reality timeline where cancer is extinct and people live into their 100's. They live this long due to "people" like Kathy H. and her friends Ruth and Tommy. They are raised at an alternative school instead of in a cold hospital. They are taught to read and paint. Then one day they will donate their first organ, and usually by about their 3rd or 4th donation, they will complete. Not die, as death is never really mentioned. Even the word, "complete" has a haunting and mysterious quality to it.
It is, however, difficult to connect sometimes with these characters because they come off as robotic. As if they're playing human, which I supposed is what they were taught to do at school. The big question of this story is do they have a soul? Do they? They lived. They experienced. They loved. They cried. They walked this earth among us. What makes a soul? What creates consciousness?
None of the characters really challenge their lot in life. They know as young children sort of what they are, but they don't really comprehend it. But they don't cling to life necessarily. Nobody runs away. Nobody fights the good fight. Kathy and Tommy attempt, briefly, to try to get deferrals, to hold off on completing so they can live together and love one another. But there are no such things for these "creatures." I kept wanting someone to scream at the doctors, at anyone really. To truly question the ethics of what they're doing. Then I ask myself, why? It's who they are. They were created to also be docile. To accept their path unconditionally.
The book gets into Kathy's mind in great detail, even though we're inside her thinking, there is still a bit of distance, which is what makes her a good character. However frustrating at times it can be. The luxury of that kind of intimacy is lost in the film. Carey Mulligan does the best she can with the role, with Kathy's silence. But I think without reading the book, things get lost. I could feel what she was thinking on screen because I remember reading what she was thinking. Without that knowledge, I think she comes off as cold. The movie is cold despite the haunting and melancholic cinematography that suits the mood of the story. Keira Knightley plays a pivotal role in the film, but she's not in it a lot, which is fine because this is Carey Mulligan's movie.
There's something missing in the film. Things get skipped or glossed over, or not fully developed, which I believe would have made the film richer. I'm not saying I didn't like the film because I did. Very much. I cried. But was I crying because of what was on screen, or was I crying because I was remembering information from the novel, which then brought more poignancy to the film? Not sure. This film isn't for everyone. If you like slow British films, like Remains of the Day, then this could be for you. I loved the musical score by Rachel Portman. One of my faves and an oscar winner for a reason. Her music brings about a lot of the emotions that the screenplay by Alex Garland leaves out. I do recommend reading the book first, or even reading it afterwards, but it's not something that you can rush through. It forces you to stay with it at its own time and pace.
We all complete. Just some of us complete sooner than others.