hope of an outside world
January 28, 2011, 12:46 pm
Filed under: brave new world, the sweet life | Tags: , , , ,

“I’ve heard it will be [epic],” said Miss Emily the head mistress from the stage of a gloomy auditorium to a rapt audience of beautiful well behaved English school children.  This is the daily meeting at the boarding school called Hailsham during the 1980s in south England.  And a spontaneous cheer rips through the room, one of the few moments of raw group emotion in the new film Never Let Me Go based on Ishiguro’s novel of the same name.

And, true to her word, in the very next scene, a truck pulls into the school yard and two men unload cardboard boxes past a cluster of kids and into the school.  A little blond girls asks one of them, “Is it [epic]?,” and the man — he seems in on a joke — says that yes it is.  Another emotional flare as the small cluster jump up and down squealing with delight.  The men are wry and hesitant; they look like farmers.

And it turns out the box carriers were in on a rather sick joke:  the contents of the boxes, worn out, used toys and play equipment and cassette tapes and comic books and general brikabrak are strewn over long tables in a large hall and the students excitedly barter for them with chips they have been saving.  These worn sad things, the objects of our acquisitive lives, are to these children the hope of an outside world.

Sicker still is the purpose of the school.  This is an orphanage, these children have no parents, they are warned with threat of gruesome death not to traverse the compound fence, they rarely meet anyone new apart from the truck driver, a new guardian and the sophisticated owner of a gallery.  The new sympathetic guardian and teacher Miss Lucy makes a slip and is gone the next day.  Her sympathies are to the fate of the children:  they are being raised to donate their organs so that other people may live better lives.  And the men carrying the boxes of cast off toys, in a way, are farmers, for to the guardians who control their lives, the children are, in a very real sense, little more than livestock.

But they’re not, because suffused into their short, bewildered, brutal lives, is love.  They can love, and they do.  As we see in the lives of the three protagonists, Kathy H, Tommy, and Ruth, their loving has all of the elements of human love:  jealousy, hope, missed opportunity, fleeting fulfillment.  But most of all, it is like the politics of their lives, longsuffering and ultimately unrequited.

Much of this story plays out in thresholds: the fence at the edge of a play field, at the edge of the sea, on the shore, on a pier, or looking through glass.  Surely, they have come to believe, if we go to the sea and enter the shop there will be love and acceptance there.  We’ve seen it, they seem to be saying, standing and looking out into the mist or into rooms where nice people are doing business, planning trips, eating and talking, laughing and carrying on.

And so there is enormous human longing.  And it is anchored back – cruelly perhaps – by the tangibles of impoverished lives:  cast off toys, day trips to the beach and to town, picnics:  simple pleasures for children left out.

In the corridor outside the rag and bone cast off toy event at the boarding school, when they were little, Tommy and Kathy flirt.  He gives her a music cassette he had bought, she pecks his cheek – a first kiss.  And Ruth casts a jealous look and puts into play her plan to get Tommy.  And so life and love wash over them and temporarily quells the brutal reality of their lives.  The insatiable vanity of the world, brushes away, like so many flies, any impediment to fulfillment — including human lives — in it’s quest to have as much of life as it can possibly get.  And underneath it all, where it’s not supposed to matter, life animated by love continues to stir, even to flourish.

Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro

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