Kathy's voiceover transitions us from Hailsham to the Cottages, as she explains Ruth and Tommy are indeed an item now. She couldn't understand why Ruth went for Tommy after being so dismissive of him prior, maybe she liked him all along. She waited for them to part, but they never did. (Not exactly true.) She explains the cottages are a place where people, donors to be exact, just like themselves, come from all sorts of different homes like Hailsham, to wait to start at 'completion' centers. As Kathy sees it, they all seem to be more experienced and worldly then themselves. In particular, a couple, Roddy and Chrissy, whom Ruth takes a shine to. In a sense, Ruth models her idea on how to act in a relationship on the two. However, we soon discover that Rod and Chrissy clip some of their own mannerisms from a cheesy sitcom everyone gathers around to watch. "So not true", a oft repeated line from said cheese fest, responds Ruth when Kathy confronts her about the change in behavior since they've arrived. As Kathy states, "You copy them and they copy a TV show, it's all rather daft. That's not the way people act out there, Ruth..." One thing that I think really aids all three actors performances is the fact they're not hampered by trying to 'Americanize' their accents. They can focus solely on the characters, which leads to a tremendous amount of inner life for each. A tremendous amount of subtext bubbles up to the surface.
It's in this section that one could say things get a bit catty. Certainly, Kathy is hurt Ruth has come between her and Tommy, but mostly, Ruth is exceedingly defensive and insecure about what she's done. Still, when Tommy really wants to talk or spend time with someone it's Kathy he goes to. This creates tension between Ruth and Kathy. It comes to a head when Ruth confronts Kathy, letting her know with the 'ol 'he's just not that into you' routine. What prompted this was a prior incident in which Kathy sees some old, discarded girlie magazines. Tommy sees her flipping through them rather quickly and inquires about it. Ruth makes the assumption it's because Kathy's surrounded by couples having sex and Kathy's solo. It's Ruth's way of saying, 'stay away from my man'. (Ruth is also rather inconsiderate, and even cruel, with her rather audible sex sessions with Tommy well within Kathy's earshot.) The truth is a bit more complex, and heartbreaking, regarding Kathy's reasons for thumbing through the porno rags. It's revealed later on. But, the fact remains the three are still a tight unit. And when a rumor pops up that someone's seen Ruth's 'original' out 'there' in the world beyond, Ruth asks Kathy to come with them to check it out.
Once again, it's made clear just how apart the 'donors' are from the world they serve. Rod and Chrissy take the trio out to search for Ruth's 'original' and stop to grab a bite to eat. Just figuring out what to order for the Hailsham kids is a sysiphean task. The trio simply decide it best to just order what Rod and Chrissy do: sausage, egg, and chips. Oh so British! It's at this point the concept of 'deferral' comes up for the first time, and hangs over the rest of the film. According to Rod and Chrissy, there's a rumor that some Hailsham kids get special treatment. If a young couple came from Hailsham, and they could prove they were in love, real love, they would be granted a deferral from donating, so they could have a few extra years together. Of course, it's just a rumor, and after quibbling back forth about it's veracity, (Rod seems to think the trio deny the rumor in order to keep the secret for themselves, hope springs eternal.) Kathy shuts the door by stating simply, "There were lots of stories at Hailsham. I don't think many of them turned out to be true." Not long after more hopes get dashed, as Ruth's possible original turns out not to really look much like her at all. She goes on a bit of a tirade, exclaiming something they all probably know, but don't want to believe. They're probably cloned from 'junkies, prostitutes, winos, tramps', and if they want to find their originals they should look in the gutter. Obviously, a buzz kill all the way around. And as always in this film, an incredibly profound moment, this viewer didn't really catch until the umpteenth viewing. Tommy and Kathy have a quiet moment together on a dock, watching the seagulls and staring into the infinite ocean, after Ruth has stormed off. It's a long, achingly beautiful moment that the filmmakers hold on to for just perfect amount of time. Finally, Kathy breaks the silence by simply saying, "We should go back..." For awhile Tommy ponders it in his sensitive, simple fashion. Garfield is able to convey, without any dialogue, what his character in feeling. Go back to... Hailsham? The time before we really started to understand our fate? Back together, before Ruth intervened? Obviously, she's referring to going back to The Cottages, but like life itself, this film is packed with soulful, poignant moments that mean a great deal more than just what's on the surface.
However, hope does indeed spring eternal, as Tommy latches on this idea of a deferral. On one of his walks with Kathy he muses that maybe that was what the gallery was all about after all. Maybe, just maybe, the gallery's purpose was to see into the children's souls through their art, hence they could tell if they indeed were in love. Timidly, Kathy inquires if Tommy will apply for a deferral with Ruth. Tommy counters with one of the great recent cinematic declarations of love. "It wouldn't work. You forget that you got plenty of things in the gallery, and I didn't submit anything..." Kathy cries as she walks away just muttering, "Oh Tommy!" Now, I understand the syntax of the scene, I got it. But, it wasn't until seeing it a few times that I understood fully what was said, specifically, and understanding it was the equivalent of Tommy saying 'I love you'. Part of the issue, and it is my only quibble with the film, some of the lines of dialogue are a bit mushy. Tommy says the aforementioned line quickly, and is a tad inaudible. In another key bit of voiceover mentioned prior, in which she explains the purpose of 'the cottages' as a place where the future donors wait to go to completion centers, Mulligan stumbles on Kathy H's pronunciation of 'completion'. It sounds like she's saying condeetion center or some such garble, the L is missing in how she says completion. I, literally after rewinding it several times, had to revert to the English subtitle button. Now, if Martin Scorsese as Irwin Winkler stated it, obsessed over a line in Raging Bull in which a character orders a Scotch and Soda. After fiddling with the line in sound editing for what seemed eternity, Winkler finally took the picture out of Marty's hands, Scorsese responded with telling him to take his name off the picture. Of course, he didn't, but you can hear the line just fine. I think it would've served Romanek to be that rigorous here as it certainly doesn't harm the film in any significant way, but when you're this close to perfection, why not go just a bit further.
These minor quibbles are superseded by the brilliance and subtlety of this film. In a normal film, Tommy would've said something as simple and mindless as, "No Kathy, I'm not going to try and get a deferral with Ruth, because I love you." Not here, that's just too simple minded... In the next scene Kathy lays in bed listening to her cassette Tommy gave her at Hailsham. Ruth interrupts the moment by engaging, attacking her more like it. She's aware Kathy lies in wait for her and Tommy to break up. Perhaps sensing she's going to lose Tommy soon, and knowing he really loves Kathy anyway, she brings up the aforementioned girlie mag's. Ruth deduces it's an example how Kathy still harbors sexual feelings for Tommy. But, he just doesn't feel that way about her. Tears roll down Kathy's face, maybe because she knows Ruth's correct, but on a much deeper level. But, also because she sees right through Ruth's pathetic last gasp at holding on to something they inherently understand will go away soon. She also probably understands Ruth is the weak link in the chain, not long for this world, which proves accurate. While Kathy knows Tommy loves her, she also knows circumstances dictate they can't be the couple they want to be. Not one to feel sorry for herself, Kathy gets into action and decides to be a carer. As she says in voiceover she soon becomes too busy in service of others to think about Ruth and Tommy, and if she'd known how quickly their lives would separate from each other, she may have held on tight. Of course, one gets the sense she's a bit over the drama and needs a bit of a break from it all. Which transitions us to the 'Completion' section of the film. That dreaded word again.