What would the world be like if genetic cloning was a common occurrence? If people were genetically designed to donate organs to those who were sick? If these donors weren’t even considered humans, but just clones? That’s the world that Never Let Me Go aims to explore.
A science fiction novel set in modern times, Never Let Me Go follows the lives of Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth, who are students at Hailsham boarding school in England. Initially the reader learns Hailsham is not your average boarding school, but we don’t understand why until later. We learn that the students are all genetically designed to make organ donations to the ill until they “complete,” or die. This is never said outright, but the reader learns it from context clues. Suddenly, the dynamic of the relationships in the book become much more engaging.
The story sounds weird, but in actuality, it’s tragic. Tommy and Kathy have always been in love, but Tommy dates Kathy’s frenemy Ruth instead. After their schooling, the three friends join society and start their work. Ruth and Tommy become donors, spending their time preparing for surgery, undergoing surgery, and recovering from it. Kathy, in turn, becomes a carer – taking care of donors for years until she decides she is ready to become a donor herself.
After 10 years of not seeing each other, the three reunite. Ruth apologizes for keeping Tommy and Kathy away from each other and urges them to try to get a deferral. A deferral, they’ve heard, is a 3-year delay for donations, granted to donors who can prove they’re in love.
As mentioned, this is a story of tragedy. And surprisingly, that’s felt both in the book and the movie. Though the movie leaves out a few minor plotlines (like Kathy’s exploration into sex), it follows the story pretty closely. The movie is more blunt about their purpose as donors than the book. Whereas the reader has to figure it out for him or herself in the book, the movie outright tells the audience what the situation is. The bluntness forces the movie to lose some of the story’s mystique, but it’s necessary to keep it moving.
Overall, the story translates quite well to screen. The acting is solid (with Carey Mulligan as Kathy, Andrew Garfield as Tommy, and Kiera Knightley as Ruth), the cinematography is beautiful and the story flows well. It didn’t do well in theaters, but I think that’s because the story is unusual when compared to your average love triangle. I would still recommend the movie, as well as the book.