Never Let Me Go (2010)

Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Tommy (Andrew Garfield) and Ruth (Keira Knightley) are three boarders at Hailsham School. Initially unaware of their overriding purpose, the children are soon brought up to speed by guilty teacher Miss Lucy(Sally Hawkins), who is intent on telling them the whole story so that they might live more fulfilling lives. Bred as donors, the children of Hailsham – and a selection of other schools around the country – are carefully monitored until the age of eighteen, their inner health maintained at all costs. Moved to a residential area known as The Cottages after graduating, Kathy, Tommy and Ruth are left to their own devices until they ‘ripen’ to the age at which they can begin donation. As Kathy and Tommy’s initial attraction is stunted by a jealous Ruth and, they begin to donate their vital organs, a rumoured deferral for young lovers provides desperate hope in increasingly dark times.

I must first confess that I haven’t read Kazuo Ishiguro’s source novel and cannot therefore comment on the film’s faithfulness to the novel or its success as an adaptation. Never Let Me Know has a delicious premise, however, and has nevertheless had me intrigued since it was first greenlit however many years ago. Boasting a strong cast, a tantalisingly sinister story and the promise of a truly devastating climax, Never Let Me Go is a delightfully human portrait of desire, longing and foreboading set against the potent sense of foreboding allowed by the story. The question is, however, whether Mark Romanek’s minimalist direction is too understated for its own good?

I enjoyed Never Let Me Go, it had a wonderfully whimsical quality which invoked baffling yet flattering comparisons to James McTeigue’s similarly dystopian adaptation, V for Vendetta. No? I’ll explain. As Evey Hammond lies shaven in an otherwise empty prison cell, she discovers sheets of a fellow inmate’s autobiography scribbled on slivers of toilet paper. This woman’s story is presented by voice over, as she is rounded up by the homophobic authorities and subjected to experimentation. Never Let Me Go takes this confessional voiceover and stretches it to feature length, as Carey Mulligan opens each of the film’s three segments with an emotive narration. While often as effective as it was in V for Vendetta, this directorial decision struggles to support the entire movie, the often whimsical tone failing to convey the gravity of the friends’ situation.

While I marvelled at the idyllic scenery and engaged with the exceptional acting – seriously, Knightley has never been better than as the desperate and manipulative Beth – I never once found myself as overcome with emotion as I felt I should have been. The alien threat of ‘completing’ has endless dramatic potential, and while it looms in the background throughout, the director’s refusal to deal directly with the fantastical elements of the plot somewhat diffuse the foreboding. While it is admirable that the director never loses track of his characters’ humanity, their passive acceptance of their tragic fates leave the plot tenuously thin, the film’s stance on its subject matter uncertain. Though nobody likes to be preached to, the movie’s message is ultimately confused. Good science fiction usually comments on society, using allegory to shed light on moral ambiguities hitherto unrealised in the day to day monotony of TV dinners and rush hour traffic. The initially mouth-watering premise seems disappointingly incidental by film’s end.

That is not to belittle the craft that has gone into the production. While Never Let Me Go might not live up to expectations and deliver a deep and meaningful meditation on life and death, it does what it does with majesty and style. Charlotte Rampling delivers a guarded and ambiguous performance as yet another head teacher (though far less lively than she was in StreetDance 3D) while Sally Hawkins makes full use of her limited screentime as the guardian with a conscience. It is the three leads who make the movie what it is, however, with Carey Mulligan once again stealing the show with a truly accomplished performance as the trio’s resident carer. While her quiet resolve and muted emotionality might not make for the most evocative performance, she tears up with truly impressive aplomb and embodies the film’s sobriety without inducing boredom. Garfield too makes an impression as the tantrum prone Tommy. Gifted with perhaps the juiciest role, his fragility and inner rage come the closest to being truly devastating.

Picturesque, refreshingly unhurried and beautifully acted, Never Let Me Go is a very respectable piece of filmmaking. Hindered though it is by a whimsy and understatement that undermines the film’s emotional weight, the meaty premise is enough to carry this narrative to its bitter completion. An accomplished introduction to Ishiguro’s world, the film has – at the very least – certainly inspired me to read the book that started it all in search of the fulfilment of which I was deprived by this disappointingly underwhelming adaptation.

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

One Response to Never Let Me Go (2010)

  1. Pingback: February 2011 – Do you know the “f” word? « popcornaddict

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