Dystopian societies are big these days in literature.
They have been for a while, I guess, but I wasn’t aware of it. I read Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm (the one with the talking pigs) and Huxley’s Brave New World, of course, long ago. But it was not until early this year when my friend Candace introduced me to Life As We Knew It that this trend came under my radar.
I read the three books in the Life As We Knew It trilogy and loved them. The world they describe is gloomy indeed and kind of hopeless, as it is the one in the Hunger Games trilogy and the zombie nightmare in The Forest of Hands and Teeth I read afterwards. But nothing had prepared me for the horror waiting in the alternate 1970s England where Never Let Me Go takes place.
The idea of raising (growing is a more likely description of the process) children with the only purpose of harvesting their organs is repulsive. And yet in this world, apparently, nobody questions the morality of doing so because these children are not thought to have a soul.
Because we are introduced to the children singing and attending classes and playing in their bucolic British boarding school, behaving in every way as children do, before being told (early in the movie, so this is not a big spoiler) what their purpose is, the revelation is shocking. For us, that is.
But the teachers, except one who is quickly fired, don’t question this. Neither do the children. They believe what they are told, whether this be that if they run after a ball beyond the school boundaries their hands and feet will be cut or that, when they are in their twenties, they are to give their organs to others as needed.
The movie does not question whether this is acceptable, but follows Kathy, Tommy and Ruth first as children, then as teens. Kathy who tells the story is not bitter, or angry and doesn’t, even once, rebels against her fate.
I was stunned.
What kind of society is this that sees children as parts and believe they don’t have a soul?
It wasn’t so long ago that Freud and his pals argued that women did not have souls. Not so long ago that Hitler sent Jews to extermination camps, that slavery was allowed and people of colored sold and treated like animals.
So maybe this story is not so farfetched. Which makes it even more horrifying.
Are we humans really this cluelessly cruel?
Never Let Me Go is a breathtakingly beautiful movie and, despite or maybe because its harrowing subject, life affirming.
P.S. Never Let Me Go is based in the book of the same title by Kazuo Ishiguro