"It's funny how the colors of the real world only seem really real when you viddy them on the screen."

Friday, December 23, 2011

On Purpose

A lovely film, and perfect for an ethics unit at school: Never Let Me Go.

It's about kids that grow up knowing they'll never be adults because their purpose in life is to be organ donors. Pretty harsh, eh? A few ideas stand out for me. NO spoilers below. I was careful!

There are lots of people in the world treated like this crew - worse really. There is a multitude who know from childhood that they will never get to choose a career, or a love life, or a home when they grow up. They're expected to work in fields or in factories until they die. Or they get to be sold or are taken to work as a prostitute until they're unfit for work. If they can't work, once their purpose is fulfilled, they get tossed aside, sometimes to suffer heinous deaths. Not so different. They exist to ensure others, we, have an easier time of it.

Take another step back and most of us are given a purpose: to consume, to shop, to take out mortgages that are scams that will ensure we lose everything we ever had. We're here so an even smaller and wealthier group (not we) can have an even easier time of it.

Is our purpose what we're driven to do, what we're best at, or what others have in store for us. For these children it's the last option. Aristotle would go with the middle one, and I kept thinking of him throughout the film, in a nutshell: We must each fulfill our function with excellence. Find what you're able to do better than (or to the exclusion of) other people, then spend your life working towards excellence in that area. That clearly doesn't work as the definition of purpose for the kids in the film or with exploited workers in real life. It also doesn't sit well with me because what I'm good at isn't what brings me happiness, and working at what I'm best at seems to serve other people - the type that don't need any more service thank you very much. I prefer the first idea: our purpose is what we're driven to do - our passions. I don't expect the old greeks to be on-side with me on that one.

There are stories the children are told and many of them they believe. Some they deny believing, but when push comes to shove, you can see the hope in their faces. There are religious overtones as some activists try to prove the manufactured children have souls. But others in the film recognize that it doesn't matter. Proof of souls won't save the children. They're stuck at the bottom. They serve too great a need to ever be looked on as equally valuable. We tell stories ourselves - many that lead towards a mythology of entitlement: "You're better than those other kids." Even if kids barely register our words, they're taking it all in.

But it all gets wound up at the end with a moment of apology and forgiveness. Even people with little future still need to move on from a tainted past. Forgiveness is powerful stuff. But sometimes outrage is a better fit.

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