Never Let Me Go Review

Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo) directs a poignant film about love, destiny and human existence.

Featuring a fantastic cast of British actors at the top of their game, Never Let Me Go is devastatingly beautiful and utterly heart-breaking.

Mark Romanek’s film, adapted from Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel by screenwriter and novelist Alex Garland (28 Days Later…, Sunshine), features a plethora of genres, choosing at times to focus on the character-driven drama and the heart-wrenching romance while trying too often to overlook the sci-fi heart of the piece.

At the very start of the film, we’re told that medical advances have created an alternate past where by 1970 the average lifespan has surpassed 100 years and life-threatening illnesses such as cancer and motor-neuron disease are a thing of the past. Thanks to boarding schools such as the picturesque Hailsham, children are harvested so that by the time they reach their 30s, they’re able to donate their vital organs. So far so The Island, right? But what sets Never Let Me Go apart from the likes of Logan’s Run and Children of Men is its focus on youths and the way these young people resign themselves to their tragic fate rather than attempt to flee the boundaries of the school (and later cottages) for a life of normalcy and the chance to reach old age.

Like most successful science fiction films, what makes Never Let Me Go so engaging is the fact that is set in the (almost) present day and the well-written characters it centres on. Here, we have a love triangle which evolves over a period of almost twenty years. We meet Ruth, Kathy and Tommy at Hailsham where the quiet and thoughtful Kathy secretly pines for the hot-tempered Tommy but finds herself sitting on the sidelines when the insecure Ruth pushes her way in. As the trio reach their teenage years, a teacher divulges the truth about their existence – they were created to donate their vital organs. They’ll grow up to become adults but only for a short time. They’ll never have a career or visit another country. They’re restricted to the confines of the school and farmhouse cottages before they are called upon to donate and finally ‘complete’. The tragedy of the story is made all the more chilling by the way the children seem resigned to their fate. They don’t challenge it. They don’t try to escape. They simply exist and go about their mundane lives until they are needed.

The film itself is pure poetry; Rachel Portman’s score is hauntingly atmospheric and Adam Kimmel’s cinematography paints a bleak picture of unfulfilled potential, dotted with glimmers of hope of the kind of life they could have.

Carey Mulligan as Kathy H. oozes charm, as always, and says more with a single look than could ever be scripted. When the group discovers that couples who are truly in love could defer their duties by a few years in order to spend what little life they have left together, the hope and pain in Carey’s/Kathy’s eyes are enough to literally make you ache. Andrew Garfield as Tommy, though somewhat restrained throughout most of the film, has one particularly agonising scene which lingers long after the credits have finished rolling. The fairly slow pace of the film pays off as it builds up to a final act which is sobering, profound and deeply moving.

Many critics have described Keira Knightley’s performance as the best of her career. For me, she is the kind of actress who has the potential to ruin a film. As a teenager, I loved her in Bend it Like Beckham and Pirates of the Caribbean but since Atonement she has become a bit of a marmite actress – I either love her or hate her. Fortunately, the character of Ruth allows me to despise her, coming between two young lovers who are clearly meant to be together and robbing them of the chance to be together.

Kathy’s closing monologue echoes the thoughts of the audience as the film comes to an end: “What I’m not sure about is if our lives have been so different from the lives of the people we save. We all complete. Maybe none of us really understand what we’ve lived through, or feel we’ve had enough time.” That’s what Never Let Me Go is about; it’s questioning our existence and whether or not we make the most of what time we have. It makes us want to declare our love, to fulfil our potential, to ditch our monotonous daily routines and live every moment to the absolute fullest.

Emma Farley

Updated: Mar 30, 2011

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