Never Let Me Go
Directed by: Mark Romanek
Written by: Alex Garland (screenplay), Kazuo Ishiguro (novel)
Starring: Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, Keira Knightley, and Sally Hawkins
Imagine as a child that your head is filled with ideas of life; of the aspirations and dreams of what it is meant to live it. Your eyes light up at the prospect of being a doctor, a teacher, or anything else but a kid. At that age, you’re ready to move on.
It’s not so hard to imagine those notions, because in one way or another we’ve all lived them, and it’s exactly that point that Never Let Me Go wants to hit home. Though it takes place in an alternate reality where some people are raised to donate their organs to others, these are still people in every sense of the word. They are allowed to live life, if on a much smaller time line.
The title immediately suggest that this is taking place from the direct perspective of someone, and that we’re meant to view the film through their lens. That would be Kathy (Carey Mulligan), a melancholy-looking specimen riddled with curiosity. Kathy matures beyond most of her peers, advancing through prep school and into the elite “Carer” program. Carers, unlike most people bred for donation, get to live longer by helping the donors as they dwindle away and near “Completion” (Death).
Those euphemisms are really the only thing to distinguish this as some sort of science fiction story. They wrap up the disturbing nature of the entire business in a sugar-coated, idolized fashion. Kathy and the others accept their fate with no alternatives. She learns of things that will prolong her life and enhance her time to love, but she still sees that quickly-ticking clock her outspoken teacher (Sally Hawkins) warned her and her classmates about.
As you look onto Carey Mulligan’s sullen face, you see that her character doesn’t really enjoy living all that much anyway. That’s because her true love Tommy (Andrew Garfield) has done the foolish thing and dated her friend Ruth (Keira Knightley). This love triangle is played out by a perfectly talented trio of actors, even if it bogs down the middle third a bit. Mulligan and Garfield are particularly convincing, and their performances are complete proof of two worthy young stars on the rise.
We watch these characters grow up in age, but they never lose their childlike sensibilities. Tommy has outbursts of rage when he has no other option; Ruth takes pleasure in tormenting Kathy with her relationship with Tommy. Some may redeem themselves, but some have no necessity to.
For a visual entertainment, Never Let Me Go is inconsistent, but always pretty to look at. Director Mark Romanek restrains the film too much, never letting the characters burst at the seems and lash outside of the frame. There’s almost always a perfectly timed cut to look at scenery, which softens some of the critical emotional blows. Because of this, the film comes off cold at times. It also doesn’t help that some of the characters, Ruth in particular, are left two-dimensional. Knightley does what she can, quite a lot as it turns out, but in the end she’s too old for this character and writer Alex Garland cuts her no slack.
Some of the images that are created perfectly match up with the story Romanek is adapting for the screen. As you watch Tommy run out unrestrained onto the beach, the camera stays behind, and even zooms out further to give us a landscape view. We see his footprints in the sand left behind as he advances toward a washed up ship. He’s left behind a small token; a sign that he was here, if just for a little while. Whether by accident or on purpose, the movie describes humanity just by panning out.
Though it comes off as chilled and at times annoyingly controlled, you will remember this movie because of the heartbreaking intentions on which it is conceived. Thankfully it is not manipulative in the sense of a Nicholas Sparks film adaptation. You feel all right about feeling lousy as it reaches its conclusion, no matter how far ahead you saw it coming.