Wednesday, February 09, 2011


What with all the timely discussion of hauntology (which I'll admit I only half understand) at the moment, it's worth going down memory lane and recalling the dystopian books of John Wyndham that I read as a kid...such as this:

And this:

And, of course, one of his most well-known books:

Though this also became famous for the adapted TV series:

Leaving aside Triffids (which actually genuinely terrified me as a kid, with its indelible image of psychotic man-eating giant plants) and Chocky (which I can't remember much about and of which the TV series kind of passed me by - anyone else remember it?), the first two came to mind tonight when watching Never Let Me Go at the cinema.
(In case you've not read much about the film, and plan to see it, a spoiler is coming - you've been warned...most of the other reviews by now would have given away the story anyway...and there are spoilers over the two Wyndham books mentioned below too).
Indeed, while there are huge differences between The Chrysalids and NLMG - the three characters in the former can communicate by telepathy, and the the novel is set in some unspecified far future - I couldn't help but hear echoes of that novel and The Midwich Cuckoos while watching the film, with the relationship between the three in the former novel and the description of the sixty children in the latter echoing that of Ruth, Tommy and Kathy and Hailsham boarding school in the film respectively. Just as with the cloned children at the school, we know that there is something strange about the children in TMC, with their silvery-like skin and alien-like golden eyes; we then find out about their mind control and telepathic capabilities. Both sets of children, as becomes obvious, are not fully 'normal' humans as such (hence the children at Hailsham are never given surnames and are told they are "special"), with the consequent idea of lack of 'soul' - the very reason why the teachers at the college encourage the pupils to participate in art, so as to show society that 'clones' can have souls and display the emotions of their 'originals' (which ultimately fails, of course). The issue of genetics, 'cloning' and the accompanying ethical questions, then, is ultimately what unites the three. Furthermore, the deterioration of the character's healths in NLMG after their 'donations' are also reminiscent of the characters in other films such as Primer and Moon: the former self-imposed after the two protagonists make repeated 'copy' clones of themselves as they go back in time, each 'copy' unwittingly a lesser quality than the one before; the latter imposed by the state (as with NLMG) without Sam Bell's knowledge until it's too late.
But whereas Wyndham suggests happy endings of a sort - in The Chrysalids David, Rosalind and Petra ultimately escape to a far-off future society (imagined in the book's front cover pictured above) once their mutations have been discovered and exposed, while in TMC Zellaby destroys himself with a bomb to ultimately destroy the zombie-like children too - in NLMG there's no way out, and ultimately a kind of numbed acceptance pervades despite the primal scream near the end of the film: what do you do when your entire life in planned out in front of you, from birth to death? Where to go but ultimately disappear? I'd be interested to know if Kazuo Ishiguro has ever read any of Wyndham, but in any case, it's good to see a British film which credits the audience with some real intelligence for once.

No comments: