Onscreen, Ishiguro's Sci-Fi Novel Is No Mere Clone The author of the widely acclaimed novel Never Let Me Go and director Mark Romanek join Melissa Block for a conversation about where spoilers end and the real story begins -- and other intrigues involved in taking the story from page to screen.
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Onscreen, Ishiguro's Sci-Fi Novel Is No Mere Clone

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Onscreen, Ishiguro's Sci-Fi Novel Is No Mere Clone

Onscreen, Ishiguro's Sci-Fi Novel Is No Mere Clone

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm David Greene.


The new movie "Never Let Me Go" is set in the recent past, but it reveals a chilling futuristic world - a world where children are raised to be donors, to live short lives and to give those lives up for others. They live at a boarding school called Hailsham.


CHARLOTTE RAMPLING: Unidentified Group: Yes, Miss Emily.

BLOCK: Welcome to you both.

MARK ROMANEK: Thank you.


BLOCK: And, Kazuo Ishiguro, I just gave the barest outlines of the plot, and I wonder whether it's really silly to be that careful. The book has been out for five years now, and a lot has been said and written about it. How much are you comfortable revealing to audiences going into this movie about these children, who they are, what they eventually do?

ISHIGURO: If you're referring to the fact that the children are actually clones and that they're being brought up for organ donation, I mean, that all sounds rather ghastly. Personally, I prefer to get that out of the way so that people can focus on what the film is really about. I think the surprising thing about the story comes later on, in a more subtle way, you know?

BLOCK: The subtle way of how the children deal with that knowledge?

ISHIGURO: Exactly, when they grow to become adults.

BLOCK: And, Mark Romanek, do you feel that way, as the film director, that knowing that going in does not spoil anything about the movie experience?

ROMANEK: Well, it seems not to. I mean, we've had people - people seem to engage with the movie emotionally quite deeply whether they have that knowledge or they don't. And if you watch the movie with that knowledge, in some ways, the scenes are filled with even more pathos.

BLOCK: There's the moment in the movie, Mark Romanek, when one teacher breaks the silence and spells out the details of what's going to happen with these children. Let's take a listen.


SALLY HAWKINS: (as Miss Lucy) None of you will go to America. None of you will work in supermarkets. None of you will do anything except live the life that has already been set out for you.

BLOCK: And, Mark, what's really quite telling here is the reaction of the children. How do you describe how they take that in?

ROMANEK: There's this idea in the novel that children sort of know what's going on, but they don't at the same time. And so when this teacher spells it out for them in clear detail, I think that there's an emotional response that they don't even understand intellectually, and they're depicted in a way to be in a state of shock about it without really understanding its deeper meanings. And in some ways, that's the scene that sets the rest of the film in motion, and the repercussions of having this knowledge is what the rest of the story is about in a way.

ISHIGURO: I think this is the big question that we all have about our children: How much - how soon do we tell our children the less comfortable facts about the world they're going to inherit? I mean, we always like to keep our children in a kind of a bubble and sensor the bad news about the world. We like to tell them the world is full of benevolent nice people and that, you know, even the television shows they watch, we're very careful to censor things. I guess that the Hailsham situation is so much like a concretization of what we all do in bringing up children. We have to drip-feed the knowledge, and we often, perhaps - you know, we often tell them things that we know they will not understand yet.

BLOCK: All through the movie and the book, it's quite stunning when you realize that these children who are growing to be young adults are not rebelling mostly against their fate. They are - they don't try to run away. They accepted it. And in some way, they seem proud of their mission in life, really. How do you explain that?

ISHIGURO: What interests me is the surprising enormous extent to which most people accept the fate that's been given to them and find some dignity. And it's that aspect of people that's always fascinated me. In "The Remains of the Day," you know, I looked at servants who did much the same thing, you know, servants in England in the old days. So that's what's always interested me. And I think, Mark, I mean, in making this movie, you and Alex had exactly the same attitude. I know that we had some discussions about whether we should address the Hollywood movie expectation to escape more, but you and Alex were adamant that, you know, like me, you weren't really interested in that.

BLOCK: Alex is Alex Garland, the screenwriter.

ISHIGURO: Yes, Alex Garland. Yeah.

BLOCK: Mark, was there a conscious decision on your part to not make it seem like a sort of classic science fiction depiction of cloning and the things that we're talking about here?

ROMANEK: And, you know, one day, a light bulb went off and I said, well, maybe this is a science fiction film that has no overt science fiction tropes in it at all. And that seemed the most exciting thing of all and also felt right.

BLOCK: It does strike me that there is a lot in the novel that is unstated in terms of description of buildings or the characters and what they look like. And I would think there would be a lot of times when, as a director, Mark, that you might want to get a sense of what was in the writer's brain of how things should look, what the tone should be.

ROMANEK: So the same was true for me as a filmmaker. I felt like I pictured the film very, very clearly in my mind, even though certain things weren't necessarily described in detail. So that was exciting for me as a filmmaker. I felt I could do the version of the book that I saw in my head, and hopefully that other people would connect with it.

ISHIGURO: I found myself plunged into a powerful, different world. I know Mark's been kind of very modest here. He's been talking a lot about deference to the book, but I think it's a wonderful, unique work with tremendous artistic integrity and authority, all of its own.

BLOCK: Well, Kazuo Ishiguro and Mark Romanek, thanks very much for talking with me.

ROMANEK: Thanks.

ISHIGURO: Thank you.


BLOCK: You can read an excerpt from the novel and see scenes from the film, "Never Let Me Go," at npr.org.


GREENE: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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