The new film Never Let Me Go, which recently opened in limited release, posits a world where the war against disease is being won. People are routinely surviving illnesses that were once deadly. Human life expectancy has risen above 100 years.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? But it’s not. In fact, the film is set up as a dystopian tragedy. That’s because it’s shatteringly honest about the human cost of such a supposedly ideal world.
I can’t tell you too much about the film’s premise without giving the whole story away. Suffice it to say that in order for the majority of human beings to live such an idyllic existence, there is another, smaller class of human beings that has to be exploited without mercy.
And you probably could have guessed that much yourself. Why? Because that’s been the theme of countless books and movies for many, many years now. You could even make a case that the genre of science fiction was practically built on this idea.
Deep inside, I think, we instinctively realize just how willing we are to jettison our ethics whenever science or technology or government offers us a chance at a better future for ourselves. Sure, many Germans thought, Hitler was being nasty to the Jews, but he created jobs and fixed the German economy, right? Sure, we can cure diseases using human embryos, but it’s for the greater good, right?
Just so long as someone else pays the price.
Based on the acclaimed novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go is a tragedy because it’s a story told from the viewpoint of the exploited ones. And in the story, this group has been carefully conditioned not to rebel against their own exploitation. On the contrary, they believe they’re serving the greater good, and despite their suffering, they don’t try to escape.
The most that they ever hope for or ask for is a chance to put off their ultimate fate for three or four years.
Near the end of the film, two of these young people talk about their destiny with the headmistress of the school they once attended. She tells them, essentially, that to treat their own lives as valuable or sacred would be to send all of humanity back to a time of “darkness.”
The irony is that this mentality—the idea that some people’s lives are worth more than others, and that those people can therefore use those others for their own benefit—represents a kind of utilitarianism that’s more sinister than even the worst physical disease.
Because Never Let Me Go is rated R for some mild sexual content, I can’t recommend that you run right out and see it when it opens in wider release. You should make that decision in accordance with your conscience. In fact, as WORLD magazine suggests, you may do better by going out and buying the book by the same title.
But I am telling you about its main theme for two reasons. It’s incredibly important—as is every story that reminds us of the human cost when we make idols of our own goals, desires, and actions.
And second, others are going to be seeing this movie. And that’s an opportunity for you—if you understand it—to make a strong apologetic point. In this age of breathtaking advances in biotechnology and decreasing bioethics, we urgently need to pay attention to stories like this, lest we find ourselves following these fictional societies into the spiritual and moral darkness.