favorite underfed British crumpet Keira Knightley says she is tired of
costume dramas, but her next movie – a science fiction film of all things!
– might as well be one . . .
Knightley has admitted in recent interviews that she
doesn’t want to appear anymore in films in which she is made to wear
period costumes. Well, so much for another Pirates of the Caribbean
Instead she is going to star in Never Let Me Go, a
“futuristic” flick based on a novel of the same name by Kazuo Ishiguro.
Wait a minute! I can hear you say. Isn’t Ishiguro the guy who wrote
Remains of the Day and other very “literary” books?
Yup, you’re right.
Ishiguro won the upmarket Booker Prize back in 1989 for Remains of the
Day about a very (and we mean, very) English butler and his unrequited
love for a domestic servant, which was made into a movie starring Anthony
Hopkins and Emma Thompson.
It should come as no surprise that Never Let Me Go
was also short-listed for the Booker Prize in 2005 and also deals with a very
English upbringing (not the sort that involves yobs and piss-ups at the
local however) and, yes, unrequited love. What should come as a surprise
is that, yes, it is indeed a science fiction novel. But good luck finding
it at the Science Fiction & Fantasy section of your local bookstore. Like
Orwell, Huxley, PD James, Cormac McCarthy and many others before him,
Kazuo Ishiguro is yet another “literary” writer “slumming” it in the
sci-fi genre and the book is being marketed as anything but science
In fact it is rather bad form to reveal the novel’s
actual science fiction content since it does in fact represent a plot
twist of sorts, albeit one revealed half-way through the book and not
right at the end. Unlike many other stories on the Internet dealing with
the upcoming movie, we’re going to put in a [WARNING: Plot
spoilers!] right here.
The jacket blurb to Never Let Me Go sums the plot
up as follows:
A reunion with two childhood friends - Ruth and Tommy -
draws Kath and her companions on a nostalgic odyssey into the supposedly
idyllic years of their lives at Hailsham, an isolated private school in
the serene English countryside, and a dramatic confrontation with the
truth about their childhoods and about their lives in the present.
Before you groan and go, “Oh God! This is another book
about child molestation!” let me ensure you that it is anything but. In
fact Never Let Me Go can be described as Merchant Ivory does
Parts: The Clonus Horror! Merchant Ivory is of course the film-making
team that did all those E.M. Forster movie adaptations such as Room
with a View and Howard’s End. They also did Remains of the
"Merchant Ivory does Parts: The Clonus Horror!"
Parts: The Clonus Horror is perhaps not quite as
well known as Merchant Ivory. That is, unless you’re a fan of
Mystery Science Theater 3000,
the cult ‘Nineties television show that made fun out of very bad movies.
Clonus is a low-budget 1979 flick about young people living in an
idyllic and isolated facility. The young people turn out to be clones that
are specifically born and bred so that their organs can be “harvested” for
transplants by the rich and powerful elite. If that sounds vaguely
familiar then you’re probably one of the few people who bothered with
cueing up for The Island, a 2005 action
flick directed by Michael Bay and starring Ewan McGregor and Scarlett
Johansson that flopped at the box office.
The Island practically rehashed Clonus’
plot wholesale: one of the young people at the facility discovers the
truth about himself and escapes, trying to find the person of whom he is a
copy. Considering that Never Let Me Go is, well, very English and
written by the dude who did Remains of the Day, don’t go expecting
any daring escapes and pulse-quickening action sequences. Ishiguro’s novel
is set in an alternate reality in which the practice of harvesting human
clones for their organs is widely accepted; if kept out of the public eye
the same way we modern city slickers don’t dwell on the unpleasant
realities of abattoirs and where exactly our Quarter Pounder with Cheese
Is there such a shortage of donor organs that humanity
will go to the trouble of breeding people like cattle, or that hospitals
will clandestinely induce patients into a coma and then harvest their
organs (the plot of a 1977 bestseller by Robin Cook made into a movie
starring Michael Douglas)? I don’t know, but in Ishiguro’s novel there is
a rather elaborate donor program in place for just this purpose.
fact human cloning in Ishiguro’s book has been going since about the 1950s
(!) it would seem. Organ harvesting human clones is an uncomfortable
reality in Never Let Me Go’s world, but is condoned on the
principle that human clones do not have “souls” and you can thus remove
their organs until they die of medical complications. Hanging on in quiet
desperation is the English way as Pink Floyd once sang and that is what
the clones in Never Let Me Go do. So don’t expect Keira Knightley’s
character to make a wild dash for the Mexican border or anything here . .
Much of the novel is concerned with the three main
characters’ childhoods in a what appears to be at first glance to be a
very peculiar and somewhat offbeat British public school (in the UK the
“public schools are in fact the “private” ones, remember). As the novel
progresses we slowly learn the truth behind the children’s lot.
The novel however isn’t too concerned with sketching its
alternate history timeline, instead spending time on the interpersonal
relationships between three childhood friends, two girls and a boy.
Obviously the children are mostly kept in the dark about their eventual
fate (which makes them easier to control). At the end everything is
revealed in a dramatic visit to an old headmistress, but one gets the
impression that the kids could have figured out everything for themselves
a lot earlier following one afternoon visit to the local library to be
Not much actually happens in Never Let Me Go, but
it is so well written that you’d probably finish it in a few sittings like
you’d do with some bestselling pot-boiler. Like most good science fiction
(and this is actually something many sci-fi writers often neglect) it
isn’t too concerned with its fictional universe, but rather focuses on its
characters, investigating what it must actually be like to live in such a
world. Blade Runner
for instance isn’t really about a bounty hunter tracking down rogue
androids. Instead it is about what it must be like to live in Ridley
Scott’s vision of Los Angeles in the year 2017 – a point which people
often miss about the movie.
Never Let Me Go can be the next
Children of Men or
Gattaca: a powerful and thought-provoking
piece of speculative fiction. Even though its plot conceit is as old as
they come, Never Let Me Go is your thinking man’s sci-fi and could
just become a future classic of the genre. We say “could” because much
will depend on how good the screenplay is. Ishiguro “tells” instead of
“shows” a lot of the action in Never Let Me Go and it will be up to
the screenwriter to actually visualize those bits and flesh it out.
Knightley won’t be exchanging her 18th century dresses
for a zipper suit, but we don’t care: Never Let Me Go is a
great book and one can only hope that it will make for a great movie . . .