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New Conservative Film “Never Let Me Go” Asks: Do Children Have Souls?

Posted on March 4 2011 7:15 pm
J. Christian Adams is an election lawyer and former attorney in the Voting Section at the Department of Justice. He blogs about elections and the laws which affect them at
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A few years back, National Review posted the “Best Conservative Movies” here.  If it were published today, “Never Let Me Go” from 2010 might top the list, or at least sneak in behind “The Lives of Others.”  It is a movie about a vile tyranny that fails to recognize the dignity of individual human life.  It is as compelling as “Schindler’s List” or Orwell’s 1984.

The movie is about a group of select children who attend Halisham, an English boarding school.  Things aren’t quite right at Halisham.  The children never seem to leave, and parents are never mentioned.  The sinister fate of the children will be revealed over time.  But while at Halisham, they are well fed, cared for by teams of doctors and treated as treasures.  Indeed, to the rest of England, they are priceless treasures.

The movie poses the preposterous question – do children have souls?  Yet pause a moment, and consider that the question is not so simple to millions.  The movie exploits any struggle with this question and rockets you far past the question itself to the ramifications of any struggle answering the question.

“Never Let Me Go” compounds contemporary debates about terminating human life at conception or unnaturally at its end.  It provides an even more compelling justification for attacking third phases of human life besides individual convenience or cost.

This could not be accomplished without some government authority largely unseen in the film.  Because the setting is very much English, one can assume the vile tyranny is imposed through some democratic process.  This unfamiliar setting for tyranny pokes uncomfortably at the audience .

Is the movie science fiction?  Technically speaking, yes.  But current debates, and practices, reveal dangerous trends.  In the Netherlands, babies have been euthanized with sedatives.  In England the Royal College of Obstetrics has considered active euthanasia when babies present an “emotional or financial hardship” to parents.  Once this moral frontier is crossed, what remaining barrier prevents a drift toward the vile tyranny presented in “Never Let Me Go”?

Note: I have not revealed any spoiler here, and there are big ones.  Resist the temptation to find them.  Knowing the children involved before realizing the horrific scope of the tyranny is part of the ride.  In Ayn Rand’s Anthem a mere light bulb was the treasured possession which pushed the plot along.  Suffice to say, a light bulb is small stuff compared to “Never Let Me Go.”

We are used to heroic defiance to such circumstances in our movies.  We want to see Oskar Schindler hustling away dozens of Jews to safety.  The initially successful scheme of Anne Frank provides a sense of justice for the viewer, or at least temporary defiance.

“Never Let Me Go,” in contrast, shows victims as participants.  Georg Dreyman will not get to publish his novel.  No Yuri Zhivago will escape with Lara to the ice palace.  This surrender is as unsettling as the underlying acts.  Only a scream and some tears are offered as opposition to their fate.  What fences, democratic decisions or majoritarian threats elicited such passivity?  We are left to wonder, to shiver at the possibilities.
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