This might be the first day of 2017 that I’ve actually woken up to good news: Kazuo Ishiguro, the brilliant author of such novels as The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go, has won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Ishiguro, said the Swedish Academy, “in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world.”
Nowhere is this more evident, in my humble and gay opinion, than in the construction of Never Let Me Go‘s speculative hellscape: a version of late-20th century Britain in which human clones are raised from childhood to have their organs harvested. Ishiguro crafts an eminently more realistic version of a dystopia than the garish bombast we’re used to seeing. There are no armed rebellions in this world, no underground cells, no reformers, no resistance.
Our protagonist, Kathy, seeks a remedy for her predicament that is more bureaucratic than radical. She is in love with a fellow donor, Tommy. The two hear tell of a government initiative that apparently defers organ donation for couples, and they seek to apply for such a deferral. It’s a crushing – and altogether realistic – reflection of our own interaction with government oppression. Very few of us engage in armed uprisings or seek to overthrow the state. Instead, we call our representatives. We write letters to the editor. We wait in line for bureaucrats, social workers, legal aides. We are far more Kathy than Katniss Everdeen.
But this article is not about Ishiguro’s damning portrayal of a populace disempowered by the normalcy of structural bureaucratic violence. If you want me to write that article for you, you can e-mail me and pay me money.
No, this piece asks a much simpler question: what if Never Let Me Go, but Kathy has a knife now?
INT. – TOY FAIR – DAY
The schoolchildren of Hailsham roam row upon row of toys, books, and games imported from the nation’s thrift stores. Everything on display is in poor condition, but these children have never known different. In their eyes, this is a smorgasbord. Our heroine, KATHY, eyes the inventory slowly – and pauses.
KATHY: Good heavens. Is this a knife?
She plucks an object off the table. It is, indeed, a switchblade. She casts her eyes around, looking for school staff. The coast is clear. She pockets the knife. A moment later, TOMMY runs up behind her and taps her shoulder.
TOMMY: Hello, Kathy! I bought this cassette tape for you because I love you very much. It includes the song “Never Let Me Go.” Perhaps you could listen to it at pivotal moments throughout this book, given that the title is Never Let Me Go.
KATHY: How sweet of you, Tommy. But actually, this book has a new title. It is Never Let Me Go Except Kathy Has A Knife Now, because I have a knife now.
EXT. – IDYLLIC GROUNDS OF A BRITISH BOARDING SCHOOL – DAY
KATHY watches from behind a tree as her dear friend RUTH kisses TOMMY on the mouth.
KATHY: Excuse me?
RUTH: What? Who’s there?
KATHY emerges from behind the tree, wielding her knife.
KATHY: Hello, Ruth. I have a knife now.
RUTH: Where did you get a knife?
KATHY: Unimportant. What do you think you’re doing?
RUTH: Kissing Tommy.
KATHY: I think the fuck not.
RUTH: Kathy, we’re British schoolchildren.
KATHY: Of course. Sorry. I mean, I think the bloody hell not.
RUTH: That’s more like it.
KATHY: Listen, Baby Keira Knightley. You know just as well as I do that we are all going to be dead in the grave before we turn thirty. And we’re, what, twelve now? I will not – I will not – spend the next ten to fifteen years engaged in bitter, petty theatrics because you’ve decided to sublimate your lesbian desire for me into a shallow crush on Tommy, who is the love of my life. You are wasting your time and mine.
TOMMY: And mine!
KATHY: And Tommy’s.
RUTH: Cogent point. My apologies.
KATHY: Thank you.
KATHY pockets her knife and takes TOMMY’s hand. The two young lovebirds walk hand in hand through an apple orchard on the idyllic grounds of their British boarding school.
EXT. – COUNTRY ROAD – DAY
KATHY, TOMMY, and RUTH, now in post-adolescence, are riding in the back seat of RODNEY and CHRISSIE’s car, enjoying the lovely, pastoral countryside passing outside their window.
RODNEY: What a beautiful day for a drive. The countryside cottages the government has provided for us are nice, but I think I’d go mad if we couldn’t go out on these little day-trips. Don’t you agree?
KATHY lifts her knife to RODNEY’s throat.
KATHY: Pull over.
RODNEY: Excuse me?
KATHY: Stop the car. Get out. You too, Chrissie.
CHRISSIE: Are you out of your mind? Threatening my boyfriend with bodily harm?
KATHY presses the knife a little closer to RODNEY’s quivering Adam’s apple.
KATHY: Don’t think I won’t do it, General Hux.
RODNEY stops the car and gets out, along with CHRISSIE KATHY kicks her door open, walks forward, and takes her place in the driver’s seat. Without another word, she peels off, doing 75 on a dirt road.
RUTH: Kathy! What in God’s name are you doing?
TOMMY: She has a knife now, Ruth.
KATHY: That’s right. And a stolen car, too. I say we make for London. Rob a bank. Hire a forger. Obtain some convincing passports. Liberate ourselves from this wretched, doomed existence. Fly to the United States. Move to Philadelphia. Buy a loft. Start a noise band. Get six or seven roommates. Eat some hummus with them. Book some gigs. Paint. Smoke cloves. Listen to Animal Collective. Start some type of salsa company.
RUTH: But what about our tracking bracelets?
KATHY lifts the knife to her wrist, slices the tracking bracelet off in one clean motion, and hurls it through the open window.
EXT. – SHADY BACK ALLEY – NIGHT
It is two o’clock in the morning. KATHY, RUTH, and TOMMY, wearing thick shades and trench coats, stand in a narrow brick alley before a mysterious STRANGER.
KATHY: Do you have them? The goods?
STRANGER: Payment first.
KATHY reaches deep into her purse and withdraws an enormous brick of cash. The STRANGER’s eyes go wide.
STRANGER: Good Lord. Where did you get —
KATHY: I robbed a bank.
STRANGER: But how?
KATHY: I have a knife now.
She withdraws said knife, brandishing it in a threatening fashion. The STRANGER just shakes his head and pockets the money. He hands KATHY a small brown paper bag. He high-tails it out of the alley as KATHY opens the bag.
KATHY: Wait. I only see two passports. Bollocks. The gentleman’s ripped us off.
RUTH: Oh no! Only two forged passports! But there are three of us!
RUTH buries her face in her hands.
RUTH: What an extraordinary ethical dilemma. Shall we remain in London indefinitely, in the vain hope of obtaining another passport, though the authorities are presently engaged in a nationwide search for us? Shall one of us volunteer to stay behind and have their organs harvested, thus freeing the other two? Or shall we forego the plan altogether and stand together when the crows come, thus sacrificing ourselves, but in doing so throwing light on the massive abuse of human rights inherent in the British organ donation progr–
RUTH looks up to see KATHY and TOMMY driving off in a cab.
INT. – AIRPLANE – DAY
KATHY and TOMMY are seated side by side in the first class section of an plane bound for the United States of America.
KATHY: We’ve done it, Tommy. We’re finally free.
TOMMY: I can’t believe we abandoned Ruth like that. Our childhood friend. I’m wracked with guilt.
KATHY: She’ll be fine.
TOMMY: She absolutely will not be.
KATHY: Please relax.
TOMMY: This was to be a narrative of liberation, and yet, it ended in betrayal. Kathy, you’ve laid bare the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world, and with each other. I don’t know if I can ever look at you the same way again, let alone move to Philadelphia with you, buy a loft with you, start a noise band with you —
KATHY: Tommy. Tommy. Listen. Do you remember my knife?
TOMMY: Of course.
KATHY: Well, I knew I’d never clear airport security with a knife in my purse.
KATHY: So I slipped it into Ruth’s pocket back in that alley.
TOMMY gasps softly.
TOMMY: You’re telling me that Ruth has a knife now.
KATHY: Yes. Ruth has a knife now.