by Lavinia Brydon
Never Let Me Go (Mark Romanek, 2010) is a haunting love story set in an alternative Britain, where human beings have been cloned to extend life expectancy through organ donations.
Narrated by twenty-something ‘donor’ Kathy (Carey Mulligan), the film charts the emotionally tangled relationship she has with school-friends Tommy (Andrew Garfield) and Ruth (Kiera Knightly). As the trio progress through their teens, and are relocated from boarding school to a local farmhouse, they become keenly aware that time is fast running out.
Halfway through the film Kathy, Tommy and Ruth embark on a day out to confirm whether Ruth’s “original” works at a nearby travel agency. When it becomes apparent that this is not the case, the three confront the likelihood that they are modelled on the less desirable figures of society. In the charged moment, as Ruth vehemently yells “look in the gutter, that’s where we came from”, the three stand on a windswept beach in the shadow of a Victorian pier.
Filmed at Clevedon, the pier serves as more than setting in this sequence; it underscores visually some of the difficult truths that the characters are beginning to face. But while the delicate Grade I listed structure may resonate with their increasing fragile lives, it’s the pier’s liminality that is of greatest interest here. Positioned neither in sea nor on land, the pier illustrates the characters own sense of being in-between. They have been released from the sheltered confines of their boarding school but they are still unable to escape their fate. In this scene then, the pier represents the illusory nature of Kathy, Tommy and Ruth’s current freedom.
Yet Clevedon pier does not only serve as a symbol of these donors odd existence as clones. It also works to make visible their human qualities, by offering a quiet space for Kathy and Tommy to share a silent, reflective and subtly affectionate encounter. As the scene cuts to a long shot of the sun setting over the pier, and the two friends become shadowy figures in the distance, the audience inevitably ponders the romantic nature of piers and recalls their use in other films that mediate on the nature of love and loss.