Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Will We Ever Let Go?

So, my kook of an English teacher bucked the trend during my A Level English course: instead of doing the standard (but quite marvellous) 1984AHandmaid'sTaleBraveNewWorld for the module 'dystopia', he picked one of his favourite authors instead. This author was Kazuo Ishiguro and the novel in question was Never Let Me Go. A fine choice, I assure you.

The book charts the cruelly-short life of Kathy H, a woman whose destiny was cast in stone long before she even grew to exist. Kathy is a donor: she is a clone, created solely for the purpose of contributing her vital organs to the citizens of the natural world around her. This is a parallel universe where, because of the success of cloning, all diseases are cured and life expectancy tops 100. The unnervingly normal pseudo-children are schooled in typical boarding type institutions and they feel the same pangs of juvenile angst we mere mortals can recognise. Kathy feels bouts of alienation, joy, sexual desire, maternal instinct - if you've ever felt it, so has she. Ruth and Tommy, the two children to whom the novel is also dedicated, grow up in relative harmony, being largely shielded from the sickening fate that inevitably awaits them. The novel is a 'coming of age' story, a bildungsroman; Kathy is born, is ignorant, is informed, is corrupted. Accepts, donates, "completes". And all with only the faintest trace of reluctance and an infuriating sense of resolution. It is a future-day tragedy: entirely heart-breaking while equally disturbing. Beautiful and yet unfathomably grotesque. 

When I heard there was a film being produced, I pondered the significance of this: as a standard demographic, we are fully capable of approaching enticing literature and we are aware of the boxes a good film can tick: but it is a little unsettling to Hollywoodize a story based upon society's incessant need to pry into the human condition, so much so that lives are paradoxically lost in order to keep others living. It all feels rather too close for comfort, while the horror of such circumstance is distinctly alien. A fantastically brave move and a very rare treat: audiences aren't invited to pick holes in society itself but in society's manipulation of science, a medium usually untouched due to its prestige and bulletproof authority. But do we have anything to worry about? Is cloning likely to ever be a realistic means to an end? I can't imagine the debate will ever be overruled on a mass scale: but what of the research that is going into producing exterior cells to replace corrupted versions within? Or babies born to cater to the needs of their critical sibling? My Sister's Keeper may appear to be nothing but a hideously devastating sob-fest but it speaks volumes in terms of the ethical debate that surrounds such literature and now this rather wonderful adapted film: if faced with inevitable demise and the addition of scientific accessibility, the question is less 'how far are we willing to go' but 'how far aren't we'. 

Selfishness is inherent to the human instinct to survive, so why is it so horrendous that we may one day come to this very conclusion, allegorised so stunningly by Ishiguro? Of course it is a complete manipulation of life itself but is that not the same as medicine, vaccines, abortion? We can design our babies these days and we've cloned an entire living being (never mind it was a sheep, it was flabbergasting); it was only a matter of time before literature caught up and condemned. It has a wonderful habit of doing that. For my part though, I simply can't rest assured that this will forever be merely one notion adopted by 'dystopia'. Never Let Me Go sparks a debate which is literally a matter of life and death. Not the obvious choice for cinematic reinvention, but utterly provocative in a timeless and yet worryingly local fashion. 

Do read it. Do watch it. Do wonder. And do worry(?) 

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