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Laramie Movie Scope:
Never Let Me Go

Alternate reality slavery drama

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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December 7, 2010 -- Based on the Kazuo Ishiguro novel of the same name, this drama of slaves in an alternate, parallel universe is marked by the peculiar emotional repression the British are famous for. Except for a couple of scenes where violent emotions come forth, these slave clones march off to their sacrificial deaths pretty calmly without much evidence of a will to live. Therein lies the problem. This is not the way human beings behave. But, suspending my disbelief on this plot point, I have to say the rest of the film is very well made and it does allow some important perspectives on thorny moral issues.

The story centers on Kathy H. (played by Carey Mulligan of “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps”) and two of her friends, Ruth (Keira Knightley of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies) and Tommy (Andrew Garfield of “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus”). The three are among many children at a special rural boarding school called Hailsham in England (filmed in Scotland and other parts of England). The school seems odd, since no life skills are taught, just a few minor role-playing games about rudimentary manners. There is a great emphasis on staying healthy.

One day a teacher Mrs. Lucy (played by Sally Hawkins of “Happy-Go-Lucky”) breaks the rules of Hailsham and tells the students in plain English what is in store for them. They will live to be about 30 years old, then their organs will systematically be taken out and they will die. They are all clones, created in a laboratory. Their purpose is to donate their organs so that sick people can live a little longer. They are not considered human beings, but lesser beings, like slaves once were long ago. They use strange euphemisms about donations and their own deaths. When the last vital organs are removed and they die, they don't call it death, but “completion.” The students at Hailsham are not unique, they are part of a common practice of cloning people in order to harvest their organs.

Upon hearing this, the students strangely don't react like normal people would. They don't run and hide. They don't try to leave England. They don't fight back in any way. They don't rebel. They don't exhibit fear or anxiety. They just go about their normal business as if they had learned nothing about their fate. In America, slaves, who were in a similar situation, did all of the above, ran away, fought back, resisted, even though they were facing captivity, not certain imminent death the way the Hailsham students were. The problem is, if you accept the behavior of these students as normal, then you are essentially agreeing with the point of view of the heartless creators of these students and the society that would use them, that they are not fully human.

The rest of the story is a fairly standard romantic triangle between Kathy, Tommy and Ruth. There is a rumor about a possible brief deferment of donation which is explored. Ruth even tries to find the person from whom she was cloned. There is a little more revealed about the nature of these “poor creatures” and their feelings, but it is mostly done in a very low emotional key against a background of pastels in soft focus. One can see definite similarities between the stiff-upper-lip emotionally repressed people in this film and those in another film based a Kazuo Ishiguro novel, “Remains of the Day.” In the end Kathy ponders the meaning of her existence, noting that everyone must die and perhaps her own limited lifespan is no less meaningful than others who live much longer. This is true, but very much beside the point of the manner in which she is created, defined and cruelly used by others.

The main value of this film is that it is very thought-provoking. It presents an extremely limited definition of what it is to be a human being, whereas clones are not people with souls. They don't have full human rights. At the other extreme of this spectrum are those who argue that a microscopic two-celled zygote is a full human being at conception (even if that moment of conception takes place in a test tube), with all the rights that go along with that. This is actually a science-based interpretation as opposed to some Biblical interpretations such as that found in Exodus 21:22. It seems very clear that Kathy, Tommy and Ruth are human beings and they should have full human rights, but they are defined as less than fully human, in the same way black people were once defined a less than fully human in the United States (a Biblical interpretation, not scientific, which persists to this very day).

Here you have the two extremes of the competing slippery slope arguments over what it is to be a human being. On the one extreme, you have a microscopic organism defined as fully human on the basis of its DNA structure alone. On the other extreme, you have a sentient adult person with the same kind of DNA who is considered less than human for some reason. There are people to this very day who believe that some adult, sentient human beings are not fully human for one reason or another. Certain religions, such as the Christian Identity movement, popular among Neo-Nazi groups, hold that Jews and some other racial groups such as blacks, are less than fully human (they are called “mud people” or offspring of Satan).

In a sense, this absurdly narrow view of humanity is an inevitable result of the tendency of people to divide themselves into distinct groups rather than viewing all of Homo Sapiens as a single species. Indeed, if strict segregation were followed long enough for all races, they might well evolve into different species. Extreme examples of this are apartheid, segregation and the anti-miscegenation laws (also called miscegenation laws) banning interracial marriage that used to be in force in the United States and elsewhere. The last anti-miscegenation language wasn't removed from some state constitutions in the U.S. until the year 2000. Just last year, Louisiana Justice of the Peace Keith Bardwell refused to officiate a civil wedding for an interracial couple. Clearly, these ideas are not dead.

This film is indeed thought provoking and it provides a good argument for those on the side of the life-begins-at-conception argument. It shows what happens if you start sliding down that slippery slope leading to a point at which certain people are defined as less than human. Of course, if you go too far the other way on that slippery slope a wife becomes chattel once again, as in the olden days, and her life can be legally sacrificed to save her own fetus in some circumstances. This story is a good example of what makes science fiction a great genre. It allows you to view these kinds of moral stances more clearly with the aid of exaggerated perspectives. This film rates a B+.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2010 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)