When writer-director Robert Fiveson created ‘Parts:The Clonus Horror‘back in 1979, I’m sure he had no idea he was creating one of the most enduring science-fiction memes of the late 20th and early 21st century.
To summarize Parts, a group of young people are born, grow up and live in carefully controlled environment, wherein their every desire is indulged, yet their every behavior is monitored by the powers-that-be until such time they receive a call and it’s time for them to emigrate to the utopia of “America.”
Of course, America is just a lie and all of these bright, young, ambitious kids are just the spare-parts clone-farm of an aging, wealthy, politically-connected elite that created the desert haven of Clonus as an organ-bank to extend their own lives. But the kids are aware of none of this — they are simply caught up in the celebration of their young lives, until the day that they are summoned to ‘America’.
Elements the Clonus plot turn up in John Byrne’s Next Men comic book (1991-1995) and Michael Bay’s ‘The Island‘ (2005). But only Bay’s $100 million dollar studio picture got a copyright infringement lawsuit against it. After a short spell of closed-door negotiation, Fiveson and his crew got the attention and compensation for the $251K movie they’d made 27 years before.
Finally, the Clonus premise has inhabited the prose of British-Japanese author Kazuo Ishiguro and his 1995 novel, ‘Never Let Me Go‘, later adapted for the screen by Alex Garland and directed by director Mark Romanek.
Anyone familiar with Ishiguro also knows that he is responsible for The Remains of the Day (1989) another novel adapted into a splashy multi-award nominated film starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. Because Remains seems to have been a metaphor for the lack of social mobility in post-War Japan and wartime Britain. it’s not a reach to suggest that the controlled environment of Let Me Go is a metamorphosis of Day‘s unrequited arrangement into a romantic triangle. She can’t have him, because he’s with someone else.
Thematically, there’s plenty of ‘Blade Runner’ (1982) in Never Let Me Go, but director Romanek has chosen to sublimate most of the hard sci-fi of Ishiguro’s alternate-reality. Like the Replicants, the ‘children’ of Never Let Me Go exist to serve their fully human masters, if only via organ donations. Like the Replicants, Ishiguro’s children may have a limited life-expectancy, but Gardner and Romanek play down the the science-fiction elements of IShiguro’s novel almost entirely.
Beautifully shot and convincingly performed, Never Let Me Go fails because writer Gardner and director Romanek are incapable of selling the romantic triangle. Garland created something similar in ‘The Beach‘ (2000), but that was Garland’s novel and not his screenplay. The necessary cross-fertilizing friendship just doesn’t develop in front of the camera.
The crisis that Kathy H. endures after Ruth and Tommy pair off is mostly one of isolation. In the Garland-Romanek adaptation of Never Let Me Go, I only saw that Kathy H. (Carey Mulligan) and Tommy (Andrew MacDonald) as friends while the relationship between Tommy and Ruth (Keira Knightley) just seemed to be almost entirely carnal.
All said and done, it was only Clonus‘ Richard that managed to make his way out of Plato’s Cave into the ‘real’ world, while Kathy H. was just left in the donation clinic pining for her lost friends.