There’s an ocean inside of each one of us, a well inside that is desperate to come bursting forth in a cacophony of meaning that is screaming “I matter, and I am a person.” That depth, that desperation, is what makes each one of us something beyond reality and something more insane to contemplate than we’d have been able to guess. Every individual is bound to a set of rules that makes it hard to overcome their life, their assigned “station” that we are each born into. I’ve long wondered at the thought of escaping station, at running from the situation you’re born into and breaking free into something beyond. The grass is always greener on the other side, but sometimes it’s better as well.
Kazuo Ishiguro disappeared for a decade after penning the novel Never Let Me Go, and after reading it I felt that I could also crawl into a hole for a good long lay. Books take more to reduce me to tears than film, with the book being something that I like to sit with or appreciate the prose behind, the craft, and while film has the same things going for it they are something I’m more acutely attuned to and study more in-depth. Ishiguro has forced me to think outside of this safe space, with this novel’s adaptation destroying me and the novel going deeper inside to leave a hole that may never be filled. It is the hole of potential perfection, of loving respect and admiration for a writer that took that leap and risked for this.
The novel chronicles the lives of three people, from childhood to the bitterest of ends. I’ll spoil a lot in this and make no apologies for it, you’ve had over ten years to read this and almost that long to see the film.
They’re goddamned clones.
These small children, cute as a button but also precocious and deeply intelligent, are clones. Raised from birth to believe that their ending is the goal to achieve, they still attempt to live lives and those raising them strive to prove that these kids have a soul. All of this to keep them from their goal, to hold them back from what they all know is coming, clones and human-bred alike; the sacrifice to keep us all alive and keep humanity not only moving but lavish and comfortable, with these children being the ultimate waste of potential. Each clone is made from trash (hobos and the impoverished according to the posh upper class), or so their youthful legends go, but they are individuals made by experience as well as genetics and they begin to burn with the desire to exist as such. There are artistic endeavors within them, burning desires to break free and make something of themselves beyond just reaching their apex.
Humanity itself has fallen from grace. This is not the first story to discuss harvesting people for organs and it wasn’t the last, from Michael Bay’s The Island (I’m so sorry for dragging him into a serious discussion) to Neal Stephenson’s Unwind these stories have been cropping up everywhere; tales of not only cloning but harvesting for organs, a desperate plea by those in control to eat those below alive and feast on them like vampires. This topic has been quietly under the radar for a long time, with it being considered against god and nature to recreate a life. The question is posed – would that life be the same without the identical circumstances that created it in the first place?
Ishiguro eschews that shit on the surface. He prefers to place focus on the individual lives and the imperfections each has that perfectly interlock with others. Destiny is a word that carries a lot of meaning in his scenario, and the love between our protagonists carries this meaning through to conclusion.
Tommy, Ruth, and Katherine all meet at school and become an odd trio. Ruth, desperate for control and impressive in tenacity, rules over the emotional Tommy and the shy Katherine. The dynamic is consistent until she begins to notice a shift, a draw between the two, and intervenes by snatching Tommy up as a boyfriend and lover. This interaction continues from youth, around ten to twelve years old, all the way into their twenties. No matter the separation of distance or vocation or emotion, each is always drawn to the others by destiny. They’ve been raised to believe that their destiny is death and they’re always headed for it. When lost in the depths of a donation clinic they are taught to believe that reaching a fourth organ donation is something to pride themselves on and strive for. Each individual is confronted with this accepted reality, with death as a goal, and comes to a sort of terms with it. They are treated as royalty for surviving to the final surgery and at that point experience a camaraderie with those who are being harvested, longing to feel some sense of belonging as they are taken apart like a finished puzzle.
And a finished puzzle is a perfect way to describe these individuals, for they are complete before completion. They experience love, loss, longing, and burgeoning talent that is ultimately denied. People across the world experience the same and one way or another we all die, but the suffering of a standard humanity means a long life and all sorts of chances at more. These clones, these organ factories, are shaped by different factors. They were raised to believe that they served no purpose but to die while others controlled their fates. Our trio are raised in a progressive school that believes they can be more and pushes them to show their souls through artistic endeavors while ignoring them entirely, hoping to see something they’ve deciding on without seeing the reality within. And how many of you can relate? How many of you have something inside, a secret or a talent or an idea that could be unleashed with great change to the world around you?
Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel is about nature vs nurture, about the change that can be related through such circumstances, but it’s also about the idea of human consumption. Mankind can and should relate to the idea of circumstance, it’s what makes us. I’ve never been a fan of the debate, preferring instead to think that we are made up of both our inherent flaws and those around us that can help build us beyond them. I love those around me like they were family, and they have all made me a better person. Who among you can deny the same? Sure, some are set in their ways and bound by their nature and their nurture, but we all have opportunities for more. Be it political advancement, personal advancement, or just plain old desperate artistic leanings we all have our opportunities. But we have a much further away end-date than Tommy, Ruth, or Katherine. People die around us all the time but we mourn them and move on. They could motivate us, drive us to action and change. Hell, one of my friends is going to sacrifice her sanity just trying to provide clean water to a global populace and that’s just the surface.
The novel is a call to action, a chance at redemption for those that have let themselves lie beneath the surface and only occasionally pop out to play. Each one of us still holds an ocean inside of us that should not be contained. To hold back would be insanity. We all complete, one way or another. There is brutality, and that can certainly be enticing for the power it holds. There’s accomplishment, which cannot be achieved without longevity. But there’s also love.
What will you spend that time on?