Never Let Me Go: Film vs Novel Comparison

Last Updated: 12 Mar 2023
Essay type: Film Analysis
Pages: 7 Views: 1621

Can a movie ever be as good as a book? While it is true that books allow the readers to plunge into the narrator’s thoughts and perceive the events through a particular point of view, films themselves are a masterpiece in their own kind of way. The boat scene in the novel Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, which reunites Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy, after so many years of leading separate lives, plays a significant role in both the book and the film. Though the film adaptation certainly modifies this passage by adding and omitting certain features, the film adaption still stays very true to the book.

Perhaps the strongest difference is the emphasis of Kathy and Tommy’s relationship in the film, which appears a few chapters later in the book. Moreover, the film, with its beautiful scenery and music, manages to embellish the melancholic mood of the scene, in order to make it more powerful than in the book. The passage in the novel starts by giving vivid descriptions of the setting, which are used to establish the desolate atmosphere displayed throughout of the scene. The author’s particular diction plays a key role to emphasize this feeling.

Phrases such as “there was open marshland as far as we could see”, “the pale sky looked vast”, and “it reflected every so often in the patches of water breaking up the land” are the main indicators that help us picture the setting. The syntax is primarily lengthy and detailed sentences. These sentences help establish the mood as rather isolated and passive. The expression “ghostly dead trunks poking out of the soil” even goes further than this passive mood by providing a sense of gloominess.

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Little details, such as “you could hear the squelch in our shoes” add a touch of realism and provide a better picture of the scene. The description of the boat that follows makes the reader wonder upon its symbolism and the character’s struggle for identity throughout the book. Here, once more, the word choice implies that it is old and dilapidated. The boat, described as having “cracking paint” and “ timber frames […] crumbling away” demonstrates that it is trapped on the shores of the beach and is devoid from its freedom.

This very much relates to the lives of the characters, in the sense that they too do not have the freedom to lead the life they dreamed of living. As readers, we start to question the purpose of the clones’ life. It is their role to keep “real” people alive, but does their role stop there? It is clear to see how the characters struggle upon finding their own identity and the meaning of their lives throughout the book, in the way in which they attempt to create art and keep a collection box, which they use to distinguish themselves from their classmates.

As the novel progresses, it is evident that this search for identity ultimately leads the characters to spending more time searching upon the meaning of their lives rather than actually living their lives. We would like to see Ruth work in an office, Kathy and Tommy doing something they like and build up a true life. Unfortunately, the characters ¬–like the beached boat– cannot serve their “true” purpose. Just like we would expect a boat to sail the sea, we would expect the characters to live their life. The last part of the passage involves a dialogue that shows both Ruth’s fear of completing and the theme of complacency in the book.

Indeed, as the characters start talking about Chrissie completing on her first donation, Kathy mentions that Rodney is “okay”, and that “he thought Chrissie wouldn’t have minded too much” completing on her first donation. Ruth responds angrily that “how could he possibly know how Chrissie would have felt? ” as it was not him that was “clinging to life”. The author adds that her expression is “hard” and “stern”. Ruth shows by defending Chrissie so ardently that she is tired of people assuming clone’s feelings, and wants to cry out that completing is something that scares her, and that probably scares a lot of clones too.

Disturbingly though, at the end of the passage, Ruth states herself that “It felt right” to become a donor, because “after all, it’s what we’re supposed to be doing. ” Tommy, on his part, also states that he “didn’t mind, really” becoming a donor. It is frustrating for the readers to see how easily these characters accept their fate. Even Ruth –who seems deeply affected by the idea of completing– has no trouble saying that it is what she is supposed to do anyways. It is almost as if she is the one to blame for her fears, not society, as she is the one who is not strong enough to deal with her responsibility.

The movie, by contrast to the book, uses film techniques to communicate a much more melancholic environment. We see a long shot of the setting, and as the camera pauses on the panoramic view of the marshland, the moment resembles a frozen picture. We see in the fist plane the marshlands, then to the side and further away we can distinguish the characters standing in a corner, staring at the beach beyond them. In the middle of this vast beach, the abandoned boat standing alone can be distinguished, behind it, a flat blue sea, and above, a dark grey sky.

The incidental music that evokes sorrow stops playing at this point, and is instead replaced by the soothing sound of the ocean and seagulls. While it is true that the descriptions in the book give us a pretty good image of the place, nothing can replace the beautiful, deserted view displayed in the movie. This not only accentuates the feeling of isolation, but also gives rise to a sense of melancholy that affects the desolate mood of the passage. The scene then cuts into a mid-close up of Tommy longingly running towards the boat, which marks another difference with the book.

As the camera zooms in, we notice the boat resembles the one depicted in the book (old, paint coming off, etc. ) and Tommy, as he sits on the boat, smiles and waves at the girls beyond. However, though Tommy feels happy, we cannot help but feel pity and sorrow for him. First, the way he is panting and pressing his hand against his chest makes us feel concerned about his deteriorating health. Then, the way he pretends to sail the boat like a little kid shows that despite being a complacent donor, Tommy longs to sail the world, to live his life.

The reality is that he will never be able to. Again, this is tied to the symbolism found in the book: the characters are like beached boats, deprived of their freedom and their ability to live their life. At last, as the characters are discussing in the beach, a bigger emphasize on the love relationship between Kathy and Tommy is present in the film. While the book mentions that Ruth and Tommy are sitting next to each other on the beach, it is Kathy and Tommy that are shown next to each other in the film.

As the characters engage in conversation, the camera shifts back and forth in a close up between Ruth –displayed alone– and the two others. This allows us to focus more on the characters’ facial expressions, which helps us decipher how they feel. In the scene, Kathy’s expression shows she is rather sad, Ruth looks more distressed, and Tommy is the happiest of them all. While talking about donors completing on their first donation, Ruth, just like in the book, makes a bitter remark that “it happens more often than they tell us.”

And just like in the book, Tommy adds smilingly that he makes a good donor. So though the theme of conformity is present by the way Tommy smiles, the fact that Ruth doesn’t show that she is also complacent lessens the frustrated feeling we get in the book when Ruth complains about being a donor yet later adds that “It’s what we are supposed to do. ” Instead, the film incorporates a dialogue that occurs later in the book. It is Ruth’s apology to Kathy and Tommy for having kept them apart all these years, because she was jealous and scared no one would love her.

To make up for her mistake, she has found Madame’s address with the hope that they will apply for a deferral. The melancholic mood mentioned in the paragraph above combines perfectly with Ruth admitting that Kathy and Tommy should have been together all along. As Kathy looks away from the camera and replies “It’s too late for that now, Ruth” the mood becomes even more tragic. However, the fact that Tommy accepts the paper with Madame’s address arises a spark of hope into us; hope that they will manage to get a deferral, and live a few years happy without worrying about their obligation to society just yet.

In all, the film does incorporate some elements not present in the book, but the overall message depicted remains the same. The film though, due to its visual means as way to communicate with the public, blends in the beautiful view of the sea with melancholic background music to intensify the regretful mood of the scene. It incorporates Ruth’s apology and emphasizes Tommy and Kathy’s love relationship to add significance to the passage. In both cases, the boat can be seen as the finite nature of true freedom.

Though it was once new and could sail the world, the boat is now trapped on the shores of the beach, just like the characters are trapped in their society, and unable to change their fate. In both mediums, the characters show their complacency towards completing, the book, however, gives a stronger emphasis on the fact that Ruth is scared. We can very well imagine her fear of completing, but we cannot understand why she later calls it “alright. ” This in turn makes us wonder if it is better to suppress our emotions and live accepting of our fate, however unfair it may be, or if it is better to rebel and respond to our rage.

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Never Let Me Go: Film vs Novel Comparison. (2016, Jul 18). Retrieved from

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