Never Let Me Go Review
|REVIEWS - MOVIES|
A group of friends share a dark destiny in Mark Romanek's SF outing...
An interesting central team unite for the latest project from Alex Garland, the author of The Beach and screenwriter of Sunshine and 28 Days Later. Garland worked closely with Booker Prize-winning novelist, Kazuo Ishiguro, in adapting his 2005 novel, Never Let Me Go for the big screen. Mark Romanek, a relatively low-key director better known for music videos than cinema (One Hour Photo), later came on board and soon old acting chums Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley were reunited, alongside a predominantly English cast.
As “Kathy H” Mulligan's voice-over escorts us through Ishiguro's bittersweet but ultimately depressing tale. The title sequence tells us medical breakthroughs in 1952 have led to life expectancy on average being 100 by the 60s but little else is given away until we have invested enough emotional energy in the central characters for the truth to really hurt.
We're told the seemingly parentless “children of Hailsham are different” and see the electronic wrist-swipers all possess. Looked after by “guardians”, pupils at Hailsham school follow a rigid morning routine of pills and milk and aren't allowed outside the school's boundary. Socially stigmatised, people 'outside' know what they are and so perhaps out of guilt and pity, try to avoid them. It's only when compassionate new “guardian”, Miss Lucy (Sally Hawkins), is so sickened by the children's predestined futures, that we finally discover they're clones created to donate their organs.
Broken up into three sections, moving from Hailsham in the 60s to “The Cottages” and finally “Completion”, Never Let Me Go follows the lives of three ex-Hailsham clones – Kathy, Ruth and Tommy. Friends at school we watch them grow and a painful love triangle form as they move to the cottages and make their first contact with the outside world before heading to the “Completion Centres”.
Living a naïve existence at Hailsham, they refuse to believe anyone would lie to them and are pitifully excited by the arrival of a “bumper crop” - donated unwanted and broken toys. Among others at the cottages they're awkward in their interaction, resorting to copying the mannerisms of TV characters and mimicking the reactions of those around. Rather than wait for “her time” like the others, our narrator Kathy opts to become a “Carer” and in doing so, distances herself.
Never Let Me Go is sensitively and convincingly acted by a well-chosen cast. Mulligan perfectly plays Kathy with the right balance of introverted emotion while Knightley makes a detestable baddie, playing Ruth, a destructive bitch who's embittered by Tommy and Kathy's instant connection. It's hard not to feel Mulligan's pain as she listens to the one she loves with another, or share in the awkwardness of the friends' reunion. Knightley manages to turn her character around enough for us to feel enraged when she's coldly abandoned on the operating table. But it's the child actors who play the central trio while at school who are ingeniously cast – Mulligan's “mini me” looks so like her, it's difficult to believe they're not related.
As the trio grow, like us, they start to question their determined destinies, trying to locate their “originals”, clinging to the rumour of possible deferrals and attempting to unravel the importance of Hailsham's gallery. The feeling of foreboding accompanies Never Let Me Go throughout as flashbacks heart-breakingly remind us of their innocence. The lump in your throat only increases as remaining running time decreases - you're left with a lump the size of a gimp's gag ball, feeling both physically and emotionally choked.
Full of yearning instrumental music and dull tones, Never Let Me Go is gutting from start to finish - a lip-trembler about lost or missed love, urging us to make the most of the time we have. Suspend your disbelief in the inhumanity of Ishiguro's vision of an alternate past and brace yourself for a memorable tear-jerker. Although Ishiguro's final message is perhaps supposed to be uplifting, the film remains true to its title, unlikely to loosen its dark grip.
Director: Mark Romanek
Writer: Kazuo Ishiguro, Alex Garland
Running Time: 105 mins
Starring: Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, Charlotte Rampling, Sally Hawkins, Domhnall Gleeson, Nathalie Richard, Andrea Riseborough
Never Let Me Go is released on February 11th 2011 in the UK
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