Why are writers and filmmakers so afraid of calling their work
science fiction? Or is it the marketing companies and not the creators?
Either way, there is a perception that science fiction has to fit into a
certain format, usually involving aliens, spaceships and masses of
special effects, but not necessarily in-depth plot or character
As any fan of the genre can, and will, tell you, this is totally erroneous. Sci-fi is all about analogy. Classic novels such as Orwell’s 1984
or TV series Battlestar Galactica address contemporary issues of
politics, society and religion and put them into futuristic settings.
However, a future setting is not always necessary. 1980’s TV series Max
Headroom addressed this brilliantly by being set “20 minutes in the
future”. Some are set in contemporary parallel worlds, while others are
set in a reimagined past. Never Let Me Go fits into that latter category. It also falls into the category of closet sci-fi.
Based on the 2005 novel of the same name by Kazuo Ishiguro,
which was shortlisted for both the Booker Prize and Arthur C Clarke (one
of the most prestigious sci-fi literary awards), as was Margaret
Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. It tells the story of three children,
Kathy, Ruth and Tommy, and starts when they are living in a poor
boarding school called Hailsham in an alternative 1970s England. It is
clear that it is not a normal boarding school, as the children live with
cast-off toys and clothes and spend most of their time on art projects
and sports. The three children are close friends, and as they grow older
they are transferred to a farm, and also transform into Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield.
As with most adolescents they develop feelings for each other in an
obvious love triangle, which, for the most part, occupies the story,
before we get a real inkling of their fate.
The sci-fi element of the film is massively underplayed from the
outset, which is, without giving too much away, they are clones whose
purpose is to supply organs for transplants. However, this is not a
vacuous action thriller like The Island, which also deals with a similar
subject, but rather a ponderously paced drama that concentrates on the
relationship between the three leads. Being set in England it is all a
bit dismal, which is hardly surprising as the screenplay was written by Alex Garland (28 Days Later) and directed by Mark Romanek, who made the atmospheric One Hour Photo with a very creepy Robin Williams.
The popularity of the attractive cast is bound to draw an audience,
and the book has many devoted fans that have put it high on many
best-book lists. However, such devotion to the book can also have a
negative effect on film audience opinions, and while the lovers of the
novel are not likely to be as fanatical or vocal as Harry Potter
or comic book readers, the film also has a limited appeal to a larger
audience, being so cerebral. As with films such as Franklyn, it
straddles the line between sci-fi and drama in such a way that it can
alienate viewers that are expecting to see one or the other genres. The
film’s success is rather dependent on investing either sympathy or
empathy for the characters, and that is not so easy when dealing with
Keira Knightley’s typically bland performance, although Mulligan and
Garfield are more likable.
Although subtlety in sci-fi is to be welcomed, by not marketing it
as a genre film it is going to confuse a lot of people going to see a