Meaning and Purpose in Ishiguro’s “Never Let Me Go”

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In general, there are two kinds of people according to how they view their life: those who continually search for meaning and purpose in life, and those who don’t. These two kinds of people come to the same end, however. They die. We die. But that time just before death is where the dying differ. Those who believe (even without any real proof) that they have found meaning and fulfilled their purpose in life, pass confidently though sadly, and those who feel they have unfulfilled promises or dreams or tasks left undone, leave bitterly.

In my lifetime, I have seen enough number of dying people to see this. It is always sad as I know it is the fate of each and every one of us.

Ishiguro’s “Never Let Me Go” reminds me of that sadness I feel when pondering on the fate of human beings. At first I found this novel disturbing and then extremely sad; and only today, two days after I finished reading the novel, did I finally realize what I found so sad about it.

It is not that the “students” unquestioningly accept their fate of dying young because they are mere clones, created to become organ donors.
It is not that despite their being more humane than the humans who created and raised them, the latter are repulsed by them.

Rather it is that human beings despite their being “superior” to the clones, are ignorant of the real meaning and purpose of their existence, while the clones aren’t. Hence, the former can face death which they aptly call “completing” without fear or regret, albeit with a little sadness. Ishiguro found the perfect word to call death in this novel. When the clones die from having donated their organs, it is because they have accomplished or “completed” the purpose of their existence.

There are people who are convinced that they know their purpose for being in this world – they have faith or they make up their own purpose, but is it really the real purpose for our existence? How will we know for sure?

This is why I envy the clones in the novel, at least there is no doubt in their heads why they exist. For somebody outside looking in, it is a very sad existence, but the “students” in Hailsham had a happy childhood, lots of fun memories, and there was no question in their head as to what was going to happen to them, how their lives would end. As for us, humans, though we know our time is limited, and we attach all kinds of meaning or purpose for our lives, in the end we are all Jon Snow.

We know nothing.

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Interstellar and the Self

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Interstellar

 

(photo source)

First off, if you have not seen the movie yet, then stop reading.

Second, if you are a film enthusiast or a film critic, then pardon my own humble review of the movie. I am often told that I miss the point of a movie, to which I reply (but only in my head), so what? I see other things in a movie that move me, and to me that is what matters. I do not have to have the same analysis as everybody else. Our understanding and appreciation of a movie or even a book is ultimately shaped by our own individual experiences, our knowledge of the things around us,  our values, culture and many other factors.

That may have sounded like an attempt at apologetics, so I will move on.

I watched Interstellar a week ago, but waited until today to write about it because I had to give myself time to think and discuss with my husband (a physics major in university) about one of the ideas the movie presented that really fascinated me.

Cooper (not my dearest Bradley), Matthew McConaughey’s character, left earth and entered another galaxy through a wormhole. His travel with the other space explorers took, for them, just hours, but what was hours for them was years for the earthlings.

I cannot and will not even attempt to explain how the element of time was used in this story, but in my own simple understanding of what happened and in my humble second-language-learner English, let me say that Cooper was able to go back to a certain place in time, specifically that period when his daughter thought there was a ghost in her bedroom that was trying to tell her something. It turned out that that “ghost” was actually Cooper himself, from the future, (future Cooper)  trying to stop past Cooper from leaving his family. But then he was told he could not change the past.

Let me pause here to say something about Biblical allusions or religious undertones of which there is a prevalence in today’s science-fiction movies. Interstellar is definitely not an exception. the most obvious allusion is to the man Jesus raised from the dead, Lazarus. NASA’s mission in the film is called “Lazarus.”

The Bible contains a few stories about how lives had been sacrificed for something new or better to start. Death for some for the birth of new ones, like when God flooded the world and spared only Noah and his family and a few animals; or when innocent children were killed because King Herod was afraid that the child who had been prophesied to become king was born, and he wanted to be certain the child would not live to be king; or when Jesus had to die to save the people.

In the same way, Dr. Brand had concluded that it was impossible to evacuate the whole population from earth, so he formulated plan B which was to start a new population from the fertilized embryos. He was willing to abandon the living for the survival of the species. This is not new or uncommon. I think people are constantly sacrificing other people’s lives for a cause, be they good or bad.

One other thing that I was reminded of when I saw that scene where  Future Cooper was begging his daughter (who, of course could not hear him) not to let him, Past Cooper leave, was hell. Would it not be hell to be able to see our past selves making a decision that at present we know to be very wrong, but we have no way to correct it? The way we live our lives is not like how a movie is made where we do several takes. It is hell to watch ourselves making mistakes that affect not only our lives but also the lives of the ones we love  and knowing we cannot undo those mistakes.

That scene from the movie spoke to me the most — the father’s anguish at seeing his daughter again and wishing he had listened to her and not left her. I love Matthew McConaughey (not the same way I love Bradley Cooper, but yes) I think he is a great actor.

That scene also made me think of “conscience,” that tiny voice in the head that tells  one what is morally right or wrong, the guide to making decisions. I would like to think that our conscience is simply our “future selves” trying to guide us to the right direction. Sometimes we listen to our conscience, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we even feel it is absent. Maybe on a holiday.

I do not like movies about aliens, but somehow I am a little disappointed that in this movie, the human being seems to be alone in the universe, that there are no other creatures out there, that it is just us in the vastness of the universe. Are we truly this special? That we have such a huge place all to ourselves? I prefer the idea presented by Stephen Hawking that there are other creatures apart from us that are way more advanced  than our civilization. I would like to think that there are other beings out there, that it is not just us on this tiny planet in the infinite universe. This feeling is the same as when I stand on the shore facing the horizon and wondering if on the other side, there is also somebody standing on their shore wondering the same about the other side.

I have so many questions about our existence. I used to think the answer was in philosophy, and then in neuropsychology, but as years pass, I feel the answer can only be found not within ourselves, not within our planet, but out there in the universe, which means I may never know the answers to my questions. It is sad, but I am hopeful one day somebody will find those answers. And that hope and faith is enough to make me go on living my life, hopefully not disappointing my future self too much.