Never Let Me Go is one of the rare movies that lifted me out of my skin and settled my soul deeply in the body of another person. In this case, the other body belonged to Kathy, a young woman who is part of a government plan that farms children in order to remove and use their organs when they become young adults. The movie begins in an idyllic boardinghouse where the children stay and play until they start their organ “donations”. Kathy and her two friends Tommy and Ruth form a love triangle that bitters their halcyon days with jealousy, betrayals, and typical adolescent angst. However, their heartbreaks are all the more sad and meaningful because everyone knows that early, slow, brutal deaths are their inexorable fate.
In my transpersonal slide into Kathy’s body, I felt all her pivotal moments of grief and elation, as well as her sick reality of having her life and body governed by forces beyond her control. She maintains a grim calmness throughout her ordeals, but one can sense the growing panic and ferine fear at marching one step closer to death every day. But isn’t that what we all do? The three main characters each reveal a different style of coping with that fate – Kathy carries on with dignity while trying to help others, Ruth lashes out at those around her, Tommy alternates between stoic reserve and id-crazed tantrums. One of the most heart-wrenching moments occurs when Tommy – having already donated two organs, knowing he will probably die after his third donation – throws his head back and wails in such an authentic display of agony, anger, and helplessness that I felt like I was losing a few of my own precious organs. If his primal screams don’t make your heart and viscera hurt, then I’m not sure what will.
When the movie ended, the theater was dead silent. No one spoke or even moved an inch. I have never witnessed such a collective stillness at a movie’s end. We all got sucked into the story and the actors’ bodies so deeply that we needed time to reorient ourselves. The characters never really owned their bodies or lives, and that made their boundaries permeable, easy to slip into. Kathy tried to grab hold of her existence, but, like a child riding a bucking stallion, she kept slipping and sliding, unable to sink her fingers in firmly enough to create an anchor. She was simply unprepared to take on the oppressive juggernaut that suffocated her life.
Despite its bleakness, Never Let Me Go, had one shining beam of hope, and that was Tommy’s art. As a child he was teased for his drawings and imagination, so he stopped his creative pursuit. However, he picked it up again in his late teenage years in order to “reveal his soul” and hopefully get a deferral on his organ donations. I won’t tell you whether or not his plan worked because I don’t want to ruin the ending for you, but regardless of the outcome, the message is that Tommy’s art will outlive him and cast an influence over those who view it in the future. He may slowly lose his body, but his drawings and paintings remain intact, providing windows into his life, and the life he could have had. That is the glorious triumph of art – no matter what we lose, no matter what gets taken away from us, our creations remain to reveal our souls. They shine like stars illuminating the galaxy, and they will never let us go.