I’ve been thinking about what is told and what is not in a movie. What should be told and what shouldn’t. And the point of not telling. Like an ikebana, where not only the flowers count but also the empty space between them.
I watched Never Let Me Go the other night. It begins by telling us that in 1952 there was a medical breakthrough, that made it possible for most people to live beyond a hundred years of age. As it turns out the way to do this, is through donators of organs, children bred for this single purpose.
What we see is like an alternate world, where these donators are something that is natural and not questioned.
It vexes me that these kids’ fates and lives are something that goes undisputed throughout the whole story. There must be a point to it. In my world, two young people in love should question why they should donate their organs and die.
By not bringing the question up on the table, these kids have not learned that they have rights, that they can affect their lives and that they can think for themselves. And that is telling something too, by not telling. It is scarier that someone gives up his life because he accepts it unaware of the options than if he had made an active choice.
Then I continued to think about why it was set back in time. Considering the debate around cloning today, it would not be possible that we accepted human cloning, and even less that we would treat them as soulless objects. Would it have been different if cloning was discovered in 1952? Is there some message in the choice of time? You would not spend the extra costs to make the movie if there were nothing to tell by doing so.
Still I can’t help I feel unsatisfied by the empty space between the flowers. I want things questioned and debated. I want the confrontation.
But since the story is told through one of these donators, who has never learned to take initiatives about her own life, who is to raise these doubts?
What do you tell by not telling? How does the audience get the message as intended? By exposing the conflict or ignoring it?
You could say that these kids and the world they live in are institutionalized. It is all they know and feel comfortable in. A classic way to tell a story about an institutionalized world is to send somebody new into it and let this person become the main character. In “Never let me go” there is no such character. It begins and ends as an institutionalized world. Nothing really changes.
But this is not about a revolution like the Island. This is not a story that really raises the question about human lives. To me, it is more a strange way to tell everybody to enjoy what you got. Like the empty spaces in the ikebana fills a purpose, but without the flowers the there is nothing but void.