Lost in Translation

By Thomas, Louisa | Newsweek, September 20, 2010 | Go to article overview

Lost in Translation


Thomas, Louisa, Newsweek


Byline: Louisa Thomas

Ishiguro wants his fiction to be unfilmable. 'Never Let Me Go' comes close to granting his wish.

Never let me go takes its title from a song that Kathy H. likes to listen to as a young student at Hailsham, an unusual but beloved British boarding school. There's a scene in Kazuo Ishiguro's novel in which Kathy sings along while cradling a pillow as if it were a baby, imagining that the lyrics tell the story of a woman who, after being told she could not bear children, miraculously gives birth. When she looks up, she sees Madame crying, watching her. Madame is a mystery to Kathy and the other students at Hailsham; she's powerful but clearly unnerved and even repulsed by the students. Seeing her sob, Kathy is troubled. Later she wonders whether Madame could see through the song to her own situation. After all, Kathy cannot have a child, and she does not have a mother.

In the new film adaptation of Never Let Me Go, directed by Mark Romanek, Kathy listens to the song and embraces a pillow--only now she pretends it's a boy. When she turns around, she sees Ruth, staring at her with dark and sallow malevolence. Ruth is supposed to be Kathy's best friend, but that look means one thing: Ruth has it in for Kathy. Cue the scary music.

Why the filmmakers chose to make that change is understandable. High-pitched foreshadowing, borrowing the visual trope of a thriller, plays more easily on the screen than a ruminative exploration of sympathy and confusion. It's a challenge faced by every adaptation. A movie can't take the audience inside the consciousness of a character the way a book can. …

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