Never Let Me Go: Analyzing And Evaluating The Film Adaptation

Kazuo Ichiguro’s Never Let Me Go demonstrates how we create hope to overcome harsh realities. Kathy, Ruth and Tommy learn gradually that they will be clones for organ donation, but still hold out hope for an improved future. Romanek’s adaptation of Ishiguro’s never let me go deviates slightly from the novel’s portrayal that hope is essential to accepting reality.

The film’s emphasis on childhood symbols at Hailsham weakens hope development as the clones learn to accept their reality. Romanek has cut out the incident with the pencil case, where Ishiguro displays Ruth’s hope. Ruth wants to feel a bond with her classmates, but she doesn’t want them to think of her as superior. That is why the pencil case represents Ruth. Kathy’s confrontation, in the book, with Ruth, subverts Ruth deception. It robs Ruth of the hope to form emotional bonds. Kathy’s instant regret of exposing the truth on page 60 is more than enough to blame herself. She expresses her guilt at “[upsetting] a dear friend” that had “fibbed only a bit”. Kathy shows Ishiguro how important it is to keep hope alive, despite knowing that Ruth’s hopes are impossible and a forbidden favoritism. Romanek’s version of the novel does not illustrate Ruth’s character’s role in hope by cutting the scene. In the novel, Ruth still has hope, but it is less visible. The film does not convey Ishiguro’s comment about maintaining hope in characters that try to hide it.

Hailsham partially translates hope into the real world by emphasizing the students’ collection. The students of the novel struggle to understand the world and try to find meaning through their collections. They can use the collections to distract themselves from reality and cope. Romanek emphasizes the collections in a series close-up shots to show their importance for the clones, as they give them hope of a fulfilled and happy life even before the film is completed. This symbol communicates more about the dehumanization the clones face and their lower status in society. It does not convey the importance hope. Ruth’s view of the collection is a contrast to Keffers whose perspective represents the reality of this situation. Keffers accepts Ruth’s collection, despite the conflict between reality and hope. Ishiguro uses Ruth’s collection as a symbol to show the youth of the Clone clones. Ishiguro’s remarks on hope and reality are highlighted further by Ruth’s reflections after throwing out her collection. The novel develops the symbolism of the collections, but the film doesn’t do so as well. It focuses instead on societal concerns than on the need for hope.

In addition, Hailsham’s essays aren’t included in the movie. Kathy imagines her writing an essay as she arrives in the Cottages. On page 115, she writes that the essay “helped us stay afloat” despite the “powerful currents pulling us apart.” It is the essay that connects the Hailsham student to their youth. Kathy’s daydreaming displays her youthful optimism and desire to return there to escape the reality of today. Water references further illustrate this attachment to childhood, and the conflict between it and reality. The clones hold on to their essays because they are a representation Hailsham which helps them survive outside the protected school. This statement shows the strength of the clones hope, as they are able to resist “powerful waters” that try to take away their hope. It is without this symbol that the clones are connected to their childhoods. Also, it would not be possible for Kathy to remember her happy youth or all the other clones dismissing the task as a sign of their eventual loss of hope.

By changing the narrative of the novel, it is difficult to communicate the importance of the cassette as a symbol for Kathy’s hope that continues throughout her lifetime. Romanek incorporates Tommy’s purchase of the cassette at a Sale into his adaptation. This changes the tape to a symbol of love between the characters. The significance of the cassette and the film is now more focused on their relationships rather than the dreams and hope that the tape provides. Romanek’s decision to center Kathy’s video around romantic relationships undermines Ishiguro’s comment on the importance of hope in real life.

Ruth, and not Madame in the film is the person who first sees Kathy holding a pillow when listening to a tape. The tape, Ruth believes, represents the secret connection that Kathy and Tommy have with each other. The film’s replacement of Madame with Ruth emphasizes Kathy, Ruth and their competition for Tommy. It also hinders Madame, who views the pillow as an image of a kinder world. Madame’s decreased significance in film diminishes her continuous presence in a novel that serves to remind the clones of their reality. This change has a major impact on Ishiguro’s commentary about hope and truth, since the peaceful scene in the book where Kathy fantasizes is starkly contrasted with Madame’s sobbing. It’s a shockingly real reminder of what reality really is. Ishiguro describes the crying on page 71 that “[jerks Kathy] from [her] dream,” and makes her “[freeze] with shock.” This statement emphasizes the abrupt interruption of reality in Kathy’s fantasies. Ishiguro shows the difference in hope between Kathy and Madame. Kathy is still hopeful because she hasn’t fully grasped what her role is in society. Madame on the other hand is already familiar with the harsh realities. Madame sees in the tape the cruel world that she has experienced, while Kathy sees it as a reminder of her innocence. Kathy’s tape can bring her happiness even though she has grown up and accepted the reality. It represents her childhood innocence. Ishiguro shows that she still has hope and can appreciate small moments of hope like the tape. Ishiguro demonstrates that the ability to have hope is the best way to confront reality. Madame, for example, has no hope when she tells Tommy he must “‘run a course that’s already been set.'” This shows she has given up on hope and is now a victim of society. Romanek loses the tension between the two reactions. The film also loses its commentary on how the clones are human and can hope, even within the strict boundaries of their world.

The film does not include Kathy’s story of losing her tape. The novel introduces a new aspect of hope, the belief that things lost can be recovered. Kathy and Tommy refuse to let go of the memory, hoping to regain their childhood innocence. Kathy, after finding the tape at Norfolk, writes “Judy Bridgewater” on page 181. The strong and lasting relationship she has with her childhood is shown by her statement “My old friends.” It is encouraging to know that you can still find lost items. Kathy is able to maintain this hope all her life. The tape she mentions on page 64 is one of her “most valuable possessions”, and it’s something that she doesn’t “dare play” with her car machine. Ishiguro’s portrayal of Kathy is tinged with fear, which shows how important the tape is. Even though she knows that Kathy’s fantasy is impossible, she still holds onto the tape, which proves its importance to her in both her childhood and adulthood. The film is missing a commentary on how hope can be a motivator to persevere and help us accept harsh realities.

Romanek also doesn’t fully express Ishiguro’s hope that reality will be a continuation of life. The film fails to emphasize Ruth’s secret wish to be able to have a job in an office during the trip to Norfolk. Romanek’s version weakens Ruth’s complex character. Ruth’s enthusiasm is shown more clearly in the adaptation. In the novel, Kathy writes on page. 146 how Ruth “went out of her (way) way” to try to convince her superiors that she wasn’t “very serious” when she said that Ruth was “not really serious”. Romanek’s portrayal of Ruth’s unguarded optimism is more effective than the novel’s attempt to convey her suppressed hopes. Ruth shows this enthusiasm openly to Kathy. The film, as a result of this change, does not show the importance of hope for Ruth. In her novel, Ruth maintains a sense of internal hope despite wanting veterans to see her mature. She does not believe the possible to be a good match but she chooses hope over disbelief. Ishiguro commends Ruth and Kathy for their willingness to keep hope, even in the face of a limited reality. Romanek makes changes that cause the film to lose this acceptance of hope despite realizing there’s no alternative but to accept one’s fate.

Romanek portrays Ruth’s hopes to only a limited degree. Romanek shows Ruth from a window in an office, not following her through Norfolk into the art gallery. Romanek’s portrayal of Ruth’s Hope is therefore limited. While certain shots that show Ruth leaving the window at the end capture Ruth’s slight hope, the decision to reduce the length and condense this trip hinders the film’s ability to convey the relationship with reality. Ruth’s source of primary hope in the novel is now reduced to a mere glimpse of the story.

Romanek’s adaption of Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go has a limited effect on the relationship between the two, because it differs from Ishiguro’s depiction of hope as an essential trait to accept reality. Ishiguro reflected the human response to mortality in the clones’ passivity towards completion. However, Romanek’s novel argues for hope even if death is inevitable. Romanek’s adaptation of Ishiguro’s novel does not capture this message. By altering the narrative, he minimizes symbols of clones’ hopes, thereby reducing their significance.


  • marthareynolds

    I'm Martha, a 27-year-old blogger, volunteer, and student. I'm a graduate of the University of Utah, where I studied communications and political science. I'm passionate about education and volunteer work, and I love spending time with my family and friends.

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