I have just seen the film "Never Let Me Go". I couldn't understand why the clones didn't try to escape. Even if they were angry at their fate they didn't try to alter this.

Were they genetically conditioned to be submissive? Was it some form of conditioning or was there an explanation in the book which doesn't make it to the film?

There was a scene early on where a ball falls outside the ground, and it indicated that the children were scared to leave, but as adults they enjoyed more freedom. I would have thought that they would at least think about it.

(In universe explanation).

  • Any chance you couldn't have said characters to avoid spoilers to people like myself who were still planning on watching the film? Commented Jul 8, 2011 at 15:28
  • Changed title to help. Commented Jul 8, 2011 at 16:26
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    Like most of us, the clones are not capable or comfortable existing outside the social norms learned from childhood
    – user3714
    Commented Dec 14, 2011 at 4:44
  • 1
    However, there are always those who break with the norms, it's surprising there wasn't more talk of rebellion. I would think that would be were some of this would be headed. Once the word of rebellion spreads, it suddenly changes everyone's thinking. Commented Jan 30, 2013 at 17:00
  • @JeremyFrench - Given that my answer features commentary (from the film's Director and the story's writer) specifically addressing your question, I wondered whether you'd want to reconsider your acceptance of the earlier answers.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 20:32

6 Answers 6


This was discussed (extensively) in an interview with the film's director. Apologies for the huge blob of text.

One of the consistent questions people have about the film is, "Why don’t they run away?" What would your answer be to that?

Maybe it’s a failing of the film that the question comes up as often as it does – I don’t know

There are many ways to answer the question because it’s a question that gets to the heart of what the movie is exploring. I’m always loathe to answer this question myself because if you were to ask this of Kazuo, his response is so astoundingly eloquent, I always feel, “Oh, darn: why do I have to answer this? Why can’t we get Kazuo on the phone?” Kazuo’s answer, in brief, is that there have been many films with stories about the kind of anomaly of brave slaves rebelling against an oppressive or immoral system, and he just isn’t as interested in telling that story as he was in the ways that we tend not to and the ways that we tend to accept our fates and the ways that we tend to lack the necessary wider perspective that would make that an option.

When I have shown the film to Russian audiences the question doesn’t come up. When I show the film to Japanese audiences, in Tokyo, the question doesn’t come up. There are societies where the process of that society and the reality of the atmosphere of that society is so pervasive, since birth, that people are raised to believe that it’s noble to, be a cog, really, and fulfil your destiny and your responsibility to the greater society. It’s just how these characters think. It’s a very western idea and a very American idea that a movie story is somehow broken if it’s not about a character who fights.

If you know Kazuo’s other books and if you’re able in the reading of a novel to immerse yourself in Kathy’s perspective to a greater degree than we were able to depict in a film... that question doesn’t come up when you’re reading the book. It’s... You can tell that it’s obviously about characters that lack that perspective and that the notion of running wouldn’t even occur to them – they’ve been brain-washed since childhood to believe that they’re lucky, that they’re privileged, that they’re providing an honoured, unique service to the society.

That’s just sort of the prosaic answer to the question. The whole idea of the film is really a metaphor. If you take it too literally then you would ask those questions but if you understand that the film is a rumination on the fact of the brevity of our lifespan then that question doesn’t really come up. And maybe it’s a failing of the film that the question comes up as often as it does – I don’t know. What was your feeling about it?

That we have the illusion of choice, but a lot of us don't run away... You could have had the obligatory scene where someone tries to run away, but I wouldn't want to see that film. Or, rather, I've seen that film...

Well, we suggested it, as Kazuo does - that a mythology, a rumour, rose in the school - over the years - that that would happen if someone tried to run away.

The story's writer Kazuo Ishiguro spoke to this issue in an interview at the film's launch:

  • He wasn't looking to tell the story of slaves who rebel.
  • He is fascinated by the extent with which people (when threatened by authority) remain passive.
  • The young people in the book simply don't have any conception of a world in which they can escape. They fail to find freedom because they lack "perspective".


The clones were socially conditioned throughout their entire childhood to accept their purpose. (There's lots of research about social conditioning - although there aren't real-life examples of it being used exactly like this, there are any examples where it has been used to instill a belief in something that we would now consider inappropriate).

During various parts of human history, slavery was considered acceptable. Slaves did revolt and run away, but the majority did not (otherwise slavery wouldn't have been as profitable as it was). The slaves were conditioned from birth to understand that their role in life was to work for their master.

Note that although the characters don't want to "complete", they never appear to consider that they would not eventually do so. Their goal is a deferral, not an exemption. Everything that they have ever known is centered around their place within the donation system.

It's likely that there were also measures in place to deal with any clones that did try to escape (e.g. the armbands that they all wear and 'check in' with were presumably for this purpose). As they were raised in isolation, they stand out amongst normal humans (e.g. the scene at the café, where their behaviour is definitely abnormal, because they are so unused to outside life) and so tracking down 'rogue' clones would likely be reasonably easy. The film doesn't show any such characters, but it doesn't explicitly say that there aren't any, either.

Remember, too, that Hailsham was an experimental school designed to prove that the clones had souls. The clones there were treated better (more humanely) than elsewhere, and this is especially true by the end of the story, when the 'Hailsham experiment' has failed. Other schools may have had much stricter methods of enforcing compliance from the clones (methods that more clearly would have a long-lasting impact, even when no longer under direct control), and by the end of the story the newest clones may not have had nearly as much freedom as others did in the past.

The implication seemed to be that the world was heading toward treating clones like animals bred for food (i.e. they would be much more strictly confined). Perhaps part of this was that there were isolated cases where clones did rebel or attempted to escape their fate.

I haven't read the book yet, so I'm not sure if this is expanded on in it or not.


I just finished reading the story and this was the question I was left with. I think it's the question you are meant to ask, for two reasons. The first is, we are looking at this world through our lens of freedom. The second is that we are all used to watching the protagonist start a revolution in these dystopian tales (Fahrenheit 451, Hunger Games, Repo Men, The Matrix, etc.)

The brilliance and possibly the entire idea of the novel was to tell the story of people who weren't that type of person. There are all sorts of people like that in the world. It's a trope in the genre to tell the rebel's story - but what about everyone else? I wonder how they might react to a rebellion...likely with distrust and disgust. That's the whole point of the story. They don't have the perspective necessary to incite inside themselves the idea of a rebellion. While you could rely on a sci-fi explanation of why a clone might not rebel, the more likely statement Ishiguro is making is about the human condition, and how injustice survives in the world.

I think that song is an important key to the whole ordeal. Her favorite song is "Never Let Me Go," and yet she does nothing but let people go, especially the man she claims to love more than anyone - more than once. She doesn't even think of the song in terms of her own life. She never applies it to the situations she's actually in. I think we are meant to be infuriated with them for not running. But if you think about who they are as people, it just wouldn't make sense.

The whole story reminded me of the idea of frogs in hot water. If you put a frog in water and turn the water up slowly enough, it will remain there, never attempting to get out of the water, until it has been boiled. This is what is happening to the clones in the story. It's terrifying, but also very realistic. Great book. I was searching myself for some "explanation" of why they didn't run, but reading this thread made me realize that if they had, this story would not make the same point at all.


I believe this was a creative choice on the director's part. It was one of the questions that was not directly addressed in the movie - an implicit emphasis on the fact that it isn't part of the point.

In other words, we are dealing with a whole society that has its own internal structure. It could be that the reason they aren't escaping is their social/psychological conditioning. It could also be that by that point society developed very sophisticated search methods (surveillance, chip implants, etc.). The result of whatever it is, however, being all the same - the kids did not consider escape an option.

Giving specifics of escape prevention would encourage the viewer to focus on and object to something that really isn't an important part of the movie. Instead, as a viewer you are encouraged to examine your own ideas of how our/your own acceptance of questionable social norms came about, without the technical logistics specific to the fictional world in the movie getting in the way.


And in the book when in Hailsham theres a story that a boy was murder out in the forest and his hands and feet were cut off. So when the children were naughty a punishment would be to stare out the window at the forest.


I'd had to agree with Patrick. Along with that, I think the whole ordeal with leaving the boundaries of Hailsham connects to this - they believed that if you went off to the woods you would be killed and I think, in a sense, they still believed that if they left from where they were supposed/allowed to be that something dreadful could happen to them.

Though the book doesn't mention bracelets at all but maybe those bracelets they had on had a tracking device?

  • This doesn't answer the question asked. If you have a new question, it's best to pose that as a new question.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 9:33

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