February 16, 2011
To its many cultists, the book’s appeal is that it’s like an E. M. Forster high-tea novel set at Auschwitz. But few critics recounted the later plot developments that make Ishiguro’s version of this old science-fiction plot distractingly stupid. Compared to Never Let Me Go, Michael Bay’s The Island, a failed 2005 would-be summer blockbuster about clones bred for their organs, seems almost as thoughtful as Brave New World appeared to be in 1932.
At least when Bay’s clones, Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson, figure out they were raised in isolation to be slaughtered whenever their source humans need a spare organ, they run away. (Much bang-bang-boom-boom ensues.)
In Ishiguro’s telling, not only are there no explosions, but the clones don”t even try to, say, get lost in London when they are inexplicably released to live free-range in rural England at age 18. Nor do any non-clone males offer to help lovely Keira or adorable Carey escape. Instead, they”re shunned because they”re clones. (Right.)
Do Ishiguro’s teens use sex, drugs, and rock “n” roll to anesthetize the way that they feel? Nah. Other than a little tepid romance, they do nothing to entertain themselves except engage in Jamesian dialogues about what Keira said to Carey about Andrew. They merely endure a docile decade of making their three or four “donations” and then they “complete.”
None of this makes any sense whatsoever. How can anybody survive donating three vital organs? Moreover, Ishiguro’s fictional public insists on murdering clones to cure cancer. Huh? I”ve had cancer. Most cancers can”t be fought by organ transplants.
In Bay’s The Island, the clones look like movie stars because they are rich people’s genetic copies (to minimize the chance the customer’s immune system would reject the organ). Yet in a climactic scene of Never Let Me Go, Keira informs her equally luminous costars, “We”re modeled from trash. Junkies, prostitutes, winos, tramps.”
Sure, it’s all a metaphor for mortality or discrimination or meat-eating or something, but why must Ishiguro insult our intelligence?
Filming Never Let Me Go illustrates the essential dopiness of Ishiguro’s brainstorm about how poshly educated young English slaves would fetch the most on the spare-parts market. I own a crumpled 1998 Honda that might bring more at the junkyard than at the used-car lot. But what would sell for more at a Persian Gulf harem auction: Keira Knightley’s liver and pancreas or Keira herself?