Kazuo Ishiguro's hauntingly enigmatic novel "Never Let Me Go" is a challenging artistic work that requires its readers to decipher a mysterious story arc that is never fully unveiled in the text. It's complicated to describe, but the brilliance of the work is what it doesn't say--and this ambiguity, when all the pieces finally fall into place, reveal a unique and disturbing alternate reality. It's a difficult piece to conceptualize and adapt to a visual medium, so I was curious to see what director Mark Romanek and writer Alex Garland might bring to the table. Those hoping for a literal translation might, indeed, be disappointed in the film incarnation of "Never Let Me Go" which can't replicate the novel's precise and measured revelations. However, this lovely and thoughtful film does succeed in its own right as a heartbreaking examination on the nature of humanity.
"Never Let Me Go" does honor Ishiguro's novel in tone, pacing, and mood. Gentle and idyllic, but austere and bleak when necessary, this is a subtle film that requires and rewards patience. The film establishes, from the first frame, that we're embarking on a parallel timeline in which medical science is greatly advanced from our current world. In the British countryside, we meet three youths--Kathy (the film's narrator), Tommy and Ruth--at a tony boarding school named Hailsham. Hailsham students serve a special purpose and their entire existence is lived within the walls of the academy. The three friends form a love triangle of sorts with Kathy and Tommy seeming to be soul mates and Ruth becoming the romantic foil. A treatise on unrequited love, the film follows the kids to young adulthood as they leave the confines of Hailsham at eighteen before fulfilling their final destiny.
One of the complaints I've heard leveled at the book is that the characters remain ciphers, muted personalities that seem resigned to their fate. But ultimately, that's the point. Their lives are structured on one truth, one fate--it is an inherent fact of their being. Romanek and Garland understand that and don't choose to vary from the inevitability of the story. Even if there is hope to be found in true love, it is a fleeting and temporary solution at best. Carey Mulligan gives a quietly understated, yet incredibly persuasive, performance as Kathy. Keira Knightly has a brittle efficiency as Ruth and Andrew Garfield (Tommy) has a bewildered charm that is refreshing. They, as well as the young actors in the same roles, draw you into "Never Let You Go" and, even if it seems futile, gives you hope for a brighter tomorrow.
The film's ultimate message is "live the life you're given." In the end, none of us are so different. It's a powerful message told very quietly. The film doesn't explicitly announce how you should feel, it allows viewers to fill in many of the gaps on their own. Very adult, very sophisticated, and very sad--"Never Let Me Go" isn't a perfect film--if anything it might be too reverent, too detached. But this is a thoughtful and ambitious adaptation that works on its own merits. KGHarris, 10.10
on January 13, 2011
"The breakthrough in medical science came in 1952
Doctors could now cure the previous incurable
By 1967, life expectancy passed 100 years"
And so begins Never Let Me Go, a downbeat adaptation of a book I've never had the pleasure of reading by Kazuo Ishiguro. This film is an exercise in understatement; rarely have I seen a film that's so emotional and yet avoids bravado and manages to depict these emotions in such a gentle way. This is no straight-forward drama and there's an unconventional element to the story that I feel would be best to keep secret from the potential viewer. Unfortunately, it's difficult to discuss/critique the film without disclosing that element. With that said, the secret comes out very early into the movie so don't feel that I'm spoiling anything for you.
Besides a brief opening scene, the film opens in 1978 at a boarding school called Hailsham. While headmistress Miss Emily (Charlotte Rampling) gives her daily announcement to the students, it becomes clear that Hailsham is not the typical boarding school. The health of the students is greatly important and the students' existence is a sheltered one, completely cut off from the world outside the boundaries of the school. Students are at the age where romantic ideals begin to blossom and young Kathy H. takes a liking to a boy named Tommy. Those wondering what the purpose of Hailsham is don't have to wait very long as a disenchanted guardian named Miss Lucy (Sally Hawkins) soon enlightens them that their purpose is to grow up and donate their vital organs before their "short-life" will be completed. As this chapter of the film comes to a close, Kathy watches her friend Ruth and Tommy grow close. These childhood scenes are handled with great sentiment, but also with great austerity.
The next two segments take place in 1985 and then 1994, where Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, and Andrew Garfield take on the roles of Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy. This second part takes place at The Cottages, where the three Hailsham students have their first contact with the outside world and their sexual awareness comes to full fruition. It's here that we learn a bit more about the students' purpose, as well as watch some characters struggle with their already pre-determined fate. "Completion," the third part of the film is arguably the most tragic where hope and optimism leads to sad acceptance.
Despite being only 103 minutes, Never Let Me Go manages to tell a pretty full story and show characters completely evolve from naïve children to naïve, but optimistic adults. Watching these characters evolve is heartbreaking and the way the film burrows into your emotional center with such quiet nuance is astounding. Rarely do elements fall together so perfectly in a film that they completely immerse you in what you're watching and in it's own a soft, sad way this film absolutely casts a spell. This is not a film that will appeal to a wide audience, but I personally found it to be quite masterful.
The film's score by Rachel Portman is one of the most effective musical scores I've heard in 2010. The music evokes such sadness it becomes a key element to the success of the film as a whole. The picturesque photography by cinematographer Adam Kimmel is poetic and beautiful, static yet graceful and adds an additional level of poignancy that the screenwriter could not have foreseen.
As for acting, we get to watch three very promising young actors do some wonderful work. The most surprising is Keira Knightley who gives such an honest portrayal I forgot I was watching Knightley. Ditching any glamor or sharp-tongued wit, she plays the insecure, jealous, and frightened Ruth marvelously. Garfield continues to establish himself as one of the strongest up-and-coming actors at work today. He gets such pathos out of his mix of sadness and optimism; Watch Garfield's face as he learns the truth about deferrals and the way his expression quietly goes from hopefulness to helplessness. Contrast this with his acclaimed performance in The Social Network and you have an actor building an impressive body of work. Meanwhile, Carey Mulligan continues to prove that she is something special and refreshing in the film industry. What an elegant, immensely talented actress she is and her work here is brilliant. Mulligan is a true actress, something Hollywood is lacking these days and her performance here is so powerful, yet completely low-key.
There is something so brave and unexpected about taking a premise rooted in science-fiction and, in doing so, making a deeply moving human drama and a profound, meditative statement on life, death, and humanity. Again, I've never read the book but I wonder if the book is as much of an emotional journey as the film. I would never call this film "uplifting," but the tragic, beautiful ending is one of the most life-affirming endings of 2010.
Never Let Me Go had much more of an impact the second time I watched it. It seemed more heartbreaking, more poignant, more powerful, and more beautiful than it did the first time. It's a deeply emotional viewing experience that gripped my emotions in a way few films have. While highly praised by some critics, it's been largely overshadowed by other films of 2010. Never Let Me Go is as elegant, thought-provoking, and moving as films can get. It's undoubtedly one of the best films of 2010.
on October 21, 2010
First of all, I haven't read the 2005 novel by Kazuo Ishigiro that this film is based on, nor did I know much of anything about it apart from the basics (dystopian English alternate-world story) before seeing the film. So the few problems I mention or areas that I feel the film is deficient in dealing with are wholly a product of my experience with the movie - I suspect that some of these issues might be less problematic in the novel. As you can see from my rating and review, I think the positives far outweigh the negatives.
Second of all, if you know even less than I did, be prepared for **SPOILERS**
All that out of the way, what we have here is a story taking place in a roughly contemporary (1978-94) England, a country (and presumably, world) radically changed by medical advances that did not happen in our world. Or...maybe. The most fascinating element of this film to me, and I'm sure the most infuriating to many viewers, is that we never get a really clear picture as to just what the technology is, how things have changed. The focus here is not on technology, on the science fictional aspects, on gadgetry or medicine. We get a few references to cloning, but never any details; we learn fairly quickly that the children we're introduced to at the Hailsham boarding school have a "special" destiny, and the film follows three of them in particular, one of whom, Kathy (Izzy Meikle-Small as a child/Carey Mulligan as an adult) narrates the film from 1994 at around the age of 30.
Kathy, her companions Tommy (Charlie Rowe/Andrew Garfield) and Ruth (Ella Purnell/Keira Knightley) are all being raised in a comfortable, serene - almost idyllic - countryside school to face a very particular and peculiar destiny. We get several hints early on - but only get the full heartbreaking story from a sympathetic (and summarily dismissed) young teacher named Lucy (Sally Hawkins): the children are all clones who will be harvested for their organs before the age of 30, dying typically after their third or fourth "donation". Lucy delivers the news with compassion and sadness; the rest of society, including the leaders of the school and apparently virtually all donors, have simply accepted this new world order, for the sake of the longer lives (we're told in a brief script at the beginning of the film that the average lifespan has passed 100) and comfort it has given them. The donors are essentially regarded as cattle. Eventually they move on from the school to "The Cottages" a few years later in the second third of the film, as the forward and vivacious Ruth has taken up with the awkward and introverted Tommy, which Kathy considered becoming a "Carer", helping to take care of the donors before she herself becomes one. In the last third of the film, 1994, all three confront their inevitable destinies.
In most such visions, the story would be about attempts to escape the repressive regime, or overthrow it. The genius and heartbreak of NEVER LET ME GO is that it shows a society - or a very tiny portion of one - that is completely conditioned to the way things are now; nobody even dreams of running away or changing things, and the idea of there being an ethical dilemma is never actually broached by any character until quite near the end of the film. This was, I'll admit, something of a problem for me as I was watching the film - it's really quite hard to take the blind acceptance of such an awful fate on the part of everyone; but I think that Ishiguro and the filmmakers here are making a statement that only seems unrealistic if we forget the history of the last century. I do have a slight problem with the notion that things could have happened so very quickly in a democracy like England, but if we look at something like Orwell's "1984" - set 35 years after its publication - as a model, we shouldn't be surprised. The English dystopian vision has always seemed a particularly mordant and immediate one. And setting the film in essentially our time also allows it to be made much more cheaply - it's "science fiction" certainly, but it doesn't require the kinds of sets and effects that we usually think of the genre as having nowadays.
I think that another factor that is going to be problematic for many is that we just see a very small fraction of this society, which must be so very different in many aspects but which looks essentially the same to we viewers. We are kept in the presence of our three main characters throughout, and we never see the recipients of any of these peoples' "gifts"; we never encounter the government; we never hear anyone from outside of their little world express an opinion. For me this helped keep the exquisite sadness and intensity of the growing sense of loss that these young people had fresh and vivid throughout, and without encumbering the actual film with external voices, we are allowed to consider all the ethical ramifications and meanings of this changed world entirely on our own. The donors could be read as metaphors for slavery; for how we treat animals; for abortion; for the place of women in a man's world; in short, for any way in which the rulers and the majority of a society have treated and continue to treat those without any power. There are several moments where the word "soul" is used - though the film has no visible religious agenda, the notion is that the idea of living organ donation is perhaps accepted because the clones are viewed as not having souls, as not being fully human - an argument that was made not so long ago about other kinds of people in the world we live in.
The acting and nearly everything about the production is pretty impressive; director Romanek has just made two previous features, ONE HOUR PHOTO and STATIC, over the past 15 years. I haven't seen either of those, but he has a sure hand here, putting together Alex Garland's screenplay and the performances of the fine ensemble with a minimum of sentimentality or lingering, overt emotion - which if anything serves to increase the power of the storytelling and the ultimate tragedy of the piece. Rachel Portman's music is very low-key, repetetive, insistent; at first it irritated me a bit, but gradually it grew on me, mirroring the ultimately dead-end, resigned lives of the protaganists. Of the cast I have to single out Carey Mulligan, who seems likely to get some of the same kind of awards talk she did a year ago when she burst on the scene in An Education. She has to communicate a calmness, empathy, resignation and yet a flicker of never-ending internal determination and purpose throughout the film, and I don't know that many actresses could have managed.
As Orson Welles once said about Make Way for Tomorrow, another heartbreaker about the inevitability of fate, it would make a stone cry. One of the best of 2010 - don't miss it.
on September 15, 2010
Walking out of "Never Let Me Go," I felt as if I had experienced a death. This isn't to suggest that the film pushed me away. If anything, I was deeply drawn in, entirely taken by the sheer power it had on me emotionally. I'm fairly certain I wasn't the only one; I sensed solemnity in the audience I sat with, the profound feelings of shock, loss, grief, anger, and helplessness. The film projects all that, as if saying, "It's not fair. It shouldn't have to be this way." At the same time, the film also projects profound feelings of resignation, as if saying, "Life isn't fair, and it doesn't matter what should or shouldn't be - that's just the way it is." Perhaps so, but that doesn't make it any easier. This movie haunted me, and I don't mean that I was frightened or repulsed; its themes, its characters, and its plot have a lasting effect, the ability to move us in the most personal of ways.
Adapted from the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro (best known for "The Remains of the Day"), "Never Let Me Go" takes place in an alternate universe, where medical science achieved what was thought to be impossible; in 1952, all previously incurable diseases could be cured, allowing for the average life expectancy to increase to over 100 years by 1967. But how did such a thing happen? The opening title card is intentionally vague on the specifics - all it says is that it was the result of a "medical breakthrough." With that in mind, we plunge into the story proper, which begins in 1978 at Hailsham, a charming-looking but isolated British boarding school surrounded by miles of open fields. The children and teenagers who attend know absolutely nothing of the outside world. They wouldn't dream of leaving; they've all heard horror stories about those who have crossed over the fence.
They've also heard repeatedly from headmistress Miss Emily (Charlotte Rampling) that they're all special. What exactly does this mean? We gradually come to understand, although hints are dropped all throughout the opening section. Consider the fact that every student wears a special bracelet, one they must pass over a mechanical device whenever they reenter the school building. Also consider that every student has no last name other than an initial. And then consider a lecture given by the ever observant Miss Lucy (Sally Hawkins), one in which she sorrowfully explains to the students that, while most children can grow up and be anything they want, they will never be anything; their paths have already been chosen for them. Do the students understand this? They may hear the words, but I imagine it would be difficult for them to fully grasp their meaning, especially when the only world they've ever known has been the grounds of a boarding school.
Emphasis is placed on artistic achievement, specifically poetry, drama, music, and - most importantly - drawing and painting. The best pieces are chosen by an elusive figure known as Madame to be displayed a section of the school called The Gallery. They're encouraged to participate in sports and eat a healthy diet. They earn colored tokens, each having monetary value; every so often, they can use their tokens to buy assorted knick knacks, all delivered to Hailsham via truck.
Three students are introduced: Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy. As adolescents (played by Isobel Meikle-Small, Ella Purnell, and Charlie Rowe respectively), they dutifully engage in strict regiment, although they also develop as individuals, forming a close friendship in spite of the cliques students are often separated by. Kathy is observant and calm. Ruth is bold and opinionated. Tommy is a shy boy who isn't as creatively inclined and is picked on by other boys. As adults in 1985 (played by Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, and Andrew Garfield respectively), tensions rise when they're sent to a residential community that grants them more exposure to the outside world; not only do they not know how to cope in such a place (they're incapable, for example, of deciding for themselves what to order in a restaurant), they're also at odds over their needs and desires, Tommy's physical attraction to Ruth seemingly upstaged by his emotional attraction to Kathy.
The film ends in 1994, at which point Kathy has become a Carer and has been separated from Ruth and Tommy for years. I dare not reveal what a Carer is, nor should I say anything more about Ruth and Tommy, for their fates are too attached to the secret the story revolves around. It's revealed not as a surprise twist but rather as a disturbingly slow unfolding of events, all of which lead to a devastating conclusion. This in itself very easily could have been weepy and melodramatic, but director Mark Romanek and screenwriter Alex Garland instead opted to handle it with a fascinating sense of acceptance - sad, but inescapable, like death. Therein lies the tragedy of "Never Let Me Go"; it's about the certainty of one's existence, the inability to alter the outcome, the painful moments of letting illusions go and facing reality.
on May 21, 2013
Having read and reread Kazuo Ishiguro's profound, beautifully written novel Never Let Me Go, I had been intrigued by the recent film adaptation, especially by the mixed reviews and the "love it or hate it" attitude most people seemed to take with the film. Recently I decided to take the plunge and just watch the thing myself. I approached it with a sort of wariness, curiosity, and hope - hope that, like so many books-turned-to-film, it would not end up simply being a washed out, hollow version of a meaningful story.
Never Let Me Go tells the tale of three children - Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth - growing up together in a boarding school in alternate England in the 1970's. It is a story told through Kathy's eyes in three parts, the first being the Hailsham years, the second being the time spent at the Cottages as young adults, and the third being Kathy's years as a carer. However, this is by no means a quaint story about ordinary boarding school children. Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth - along with all the other students at Hailsham - are clones whose chief purpose in life is to reach healthy maturity in order to donate their vital organs. The students at Hailsham are sheltered enough to know that they are "special", but nothing beyond that. As Miss Lucy, one of the teachers, puts it, "The problem is, you've been told and not told. You've been told, but none of you really understand." Only when she and Tommy fall in love and Ruth completes on her third donation does Kathy truly realize how their lives have been shaped beyond their control. Never Let Me Go paints a gentle, understated picture of the fragility of life and what it means to be human.
Cloning is a common concept in the science fiction genre, but Never Let Me Go molds it into something different, something beyond the average sci-fi action adventure plot line. In fact, there is nothing remotely "action adventure" about this story. We are not told of Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth's desire to escape their surroundings and revolutionize their world. There are no daring midnight runs or police chases, no cold interrogation cells. That is not the point. Instead, Ishiguro chooses to integrate simple, everyday concepts - a music tape, a ball game on a muddy field, childhood whisperings at bedtime, rain on a windowsill - into the lives of his characters. We understand their hopes, disappointments, and dreams. We watch them rage and cry and fall in love.
I wondered in particular how this understated approach would translate to film... and came away with mixed feelings. As an art piece, Never Let Me Go was absolutely lovely. Through the camera, the muted colors and lush, green, overcast English countryside were breathtaking. The haunting, stripped-down score complimented scenes while never overpowering them. Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, and Keira Knightley were brilliant in their respective roles as Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth. Mulligan played the quiet, matter-of-fact Kathy with grace and sensitivity, while Garfield's performance as the unsettled yet innocent Tommy was powerful. I was surprised by Keira Knightley's portrayal of Ruth. I am not normally a fan of her work, but she presented such an darkly honest, heartfelt character that I almost forgot the actress completely.
Despite giving it high marks for artistic value, I was surprised by how the filmmakers glossed over important characters and symbols. It wasn't as if they didn't have the time; in a slow-moving, almost two-hour-long film, that was hardly an issue. Yet the script seemed to focus more on the love triangle than anything else. While Never Let Me Go is a love story, it is more importantly a story about being human and the desire to hold on to an "old kind world, one that... could not remain."
One the most key aspects of the novel's plot revolves around a Judy Bridgewater tape belonging to Kathy. On it is the song "Never Let Me Go." In the story, Kathy imagines that the song is from the perspective of a mother singing to her baby, because of one of the lines: "Baby, baby, never let me go." In an early scene in the book, Kathy is caught holding a pillow in her arms and dancing to the song by Madame, who watches from the open doorway. This memory resurfaces at the novel's end when Kathy talks to Madame for the last time. In a final, poignant speech, the woman tells her, "When I watched you dancing that day, I saw something else. I saw a new world coming rapidly. More scientific, efficient, yes. More cures for the old sicknesses. Very good. But a harsh, cruel world. And I saw a little girl, her eyes tightly closed, holding to her breast the old kind world, one that she knew in her heart could not remain, and she was holding it and pleading, never to let her go. That is what I saw. It wasn't really you, what you were doing. I know that. But I saw you and it broke my heart. And I've never forgotten."
I expected both these scenes to appear in the film. After all, how could they not? They are the very reason for the story's title. Sadly, this was not the case. The Judy Bridgewater tape did appear in the film as a gift from Tommy to Kathy and re-emerged several times during wistful moments when Kathy felt lonely. However, it was not at all connected to Madame, and there was no powerful concluding speech at the film's end. Instead of having Madame interrupt Kathy's dance at Hailsham, she was replaced with a cold, jealous Ruth standing in the doorway. Simply using the tape as a way to enhance the tension between Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy would have been effective if it hadn't originally meant so much more. This alone might be what disappointed me the most about the film.
Without fleshing out characters like Madame and carefully depicting important story symbols, the film was reduced to a tragic love story in which life is stripped of value and its meaning bleakly questioned. A novel as potentially powerful as Never Let Me Go deserves better. By the time an hour and forty minutes rolled by, I was ready for the film to end. Lovely scenery, top-quality acting, and a moving score couldn't cover up all that was missing from Ishiguro's beautiful story. Instead of leaving me heartbroken and ponderous as the novel did, the film's ending just left me feeling empty.
on April 17, 2011
As a 35 year-old-male with stage-4 cancer, I was easily able to relate to the three main characters in this film. The thing that I got from the movie was that it was not the issue of death itself that affected the characters, it was the feeling that there was no time to make up for past mistakes. A great feeling of guilt and regret along with the knowledge that the friendship would soon be over gave the film an even more emotional element not seen in other films. I cannot think of any other movie that has had the emotional effect on me that this one has. The day I received the movie, I watched it twice and promptly put the DVD back into the mailbox so I would not watch it again. Later that night while I was lying in my bed, I started thinking about the movie. Then I started to cry, something I had not done in a very long time. No movie had ever given me the reaction that this one did. "Never Let Me Go" is a movie I would recommend to everyone.
on April 1, 2011
This movie brings up many philosophical questions about life, death, love, and what it means to be human. It leaves itself open to many interpretations, and will leave you thinking about the larger meanings and messages long after the film is ended.
****ALERT - MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS!!!****
First off, I think one main message of the film is about how certain forgotten classes of people are used and tossed aside by the rest of us, to make our lives more luxurious or comfortable. The only way we can manage to live with the knowledge that we are profiting off this exploitation, is to pretend these people don't exist. We know there is child labor, and sweatshops, and that many of our clothes/sneakers/electronics are made in 3rd-world factories in borderline slave conditions, often by children who have no hope for a better life. But we push this inconvenient truth out of our minds in order to enjoy the luxuries these forgotten people make possible. It was interesting that in the film, almost every "regular" person who came in contact with the schoolchildren (deliverymen, maintenance workers, etc.), seemed very uncomfortable around them and wanted to avoid interaction with them. They did not want to be reminded of the cost innocent people are paying for their longevity.
I also found it interesting that you almost never saw the beneficiaries of the Donor's sacrifice. They lived in an alternate universe where the organs they needed just appeared - the messiness and horror of the process was hidden from them. One very brief but telling scene is when the children were all in a restaurant laughing loudly, and an older couple at a nearby table looks at them with disgust and annoyance. These are the very same people who will likely live a long life thanks to the ultimate sacrifice of the "annoying" young people.
I also found the issue of the "Deferrals" to be full of philosophical significance. In essence I think Ishiguro is making a comment about death, and how we all bargain for more time with the ones we love. Interestingly, in the film the deferrals turn out to be nothing but a false rumor, a children's fairytale. I think perhaps the author is making a comment on belief in the afterlife... we all want to believe that death is not the end, that we will see our loved ones in the afterlife. After all, if our love is true enough, justice MUST dictate that we get more time with them. Is there any basis in truth to this belief? Or, are we like the kids at Hailsham - desperately believing a made-up story?
Of course, the film makes it clear from the very 1st scene that deferrals are false - we see Tommy clearly about to reach "completion" even as the opening credits roll, so we know there will be no happy ending for he and Kathy. So the viewer is not surprised by the revelation late in the film that there are no deferrals. What is touching, however, is the childlike hope with which Tommy and Kathy cling to this dream of more time together. One of the most moving parts of the film is when we realize that Kathy, always the more grounded one, has just realized there are no deferrals - even as Tommy still clings to his hope. Carey Mulligan does wonders with the smallest of expressions in this scene.
Also on the subject of the afterlife, in the final scene when Kathy looks across the field, she imagines seeing Tommy running across to her. This is clearly a reference to the standard Hollywood version of two lovers reuniting in the afterlife. We've seen this type of "happy ending" so often in movies, that we almost expect to see him come running over the horizon. But tellingly, he never does - and Kathy never even allows the fantasy to progress to the point where they actually embrace. The thought of something that she knows will never happen is too painful. There is no more time. There is no deferral. All she will ever have is the brief time they had together.
So in the end I think this is a movie about life - specifically, the blink-of-an-eye flash of time we all get on this earth. Anyone who has been truly in love will know that no amount of years will ever be enough. We all want a deferral, and would give almost anything for one. In fact, the people in this fictional society in effect bargain their humanity away in exchange for their own deferrals - they allow innocent young people to suffer and die in exchange for their own "deferrals". But in the end, deferral or not, "completion" comes for us all, and too soon. All we can do is appreciate every moment, and respect all of our fellow humans, and never let each other go.
on July 15, 2012
I read the book last year and was deeply impressed with Ishiguro's spare, elegant writing style, the gentle way he approached his shocking theme. I wasn't particularly interested in seeing the film, feeling that it couldn't be done well, would be too dreary etc, but my husband had brought it home from the library and we settled in to watch it last evening.
The film is wonderful. It takes over where Ishiguro left off, using the same spare, meditative style, but the characters are sharpened up and the story is intensified. The several issues embedded in the theme are brought forward with more clarity than in the book. This is an "art film" -- beautiful, provocative, something that stays with you and generates a lot of discussion. It will not appeal to everyone.
The music is like one of the major characters, very important and effective in setting the scene. The acting is simply superb, including the child actors. One of the interesting devices the film-maker uses to demonstrate the isolation and the 'otherness' of the characters is to have hardly any 'normal' characters appear, and if so not for long. The landscape is both beautiful and bereft.
Many reviewers here brought up the obvious question: why did the characters go through with the role they were assigned from birth? Why didn't they try to escape? I've seen only one reviewer answer this question the way I would. Most young men did in fact respond to the military draft in the way they were brought up to respond, very few failed to sacrifice themselves as required by their country and the culture of the times. And not many civilians balked either, not many asked searching questions about the rightness or wrongness of the war du jour that their governments had decided upon. Many parents sent their children off to war with pride. So it is not much of a leap, really, to see how the sacrifice of this particular group of young people was so easily accepted in the larger culture.
In spite of the sadness inherent in the story, it is not an especially depressing movie. The film maker treats the ordinary human emotions so simply and so honestly that the sadness is not overly burdened with suffering. The characters look for ways out of their conundrum, but in the end they accept the role they have been dealt in life. They live as fully as they are able to within the boundaries of their constricted lives. There is also happiness and exuberance, especially in childhood, and they have a short period of freedom in their late teens when it seems like anything might be possible. Then reality and the constricted options they were born with kicks in.
A beautifully done, important movie, but I can see why it didn't come up for the Oscar. It's a bit ahead of its time and it raises too many embarrassing questions.
on October 31, 2010
MOVIE RATING: 4 stars B+ )
Never Let Me Go (2010) is one of those small, well-crafted indie films that typically only diehard cinephiles seek out and appreciate. But the rewards for that search are well worth the effort here. It's a science-fiction film in the very broadest sense of the genre, but to me it's really just an existential coming-of-age love story within a vague sci-fi like framework. And when I say sci-fi, I mean in terms of a movie like Gattaca (1997), a fantastic, futuristic, character-driven, but vaguely sci-fi film. Never Let Me Go is much less sci-fi than Gattaca, but I think if you appreciate and like Gattaca, then you might appreciate and like Never Let Me Go.
There are a few movies that I was strongly reminded of while watching Never Let Me Go: Dead Poets Society (1989), Gattaca (1997), and A Single Man (2009). I think the mid-20th century boarding school feel of Never Let Me go, at least in it's first act, is what reminded me so strongly of Dead Poets Society. But as the film plays out, it reminds me more of Gattaca and A Single Man. All three of these films deal with the topic of "completion" (i.e. death), in similar ways to this one. There's a strong sense of sacrifice that comes with suicidal death in all four films, but each takes a slightly different look at the topic.
The story of Never Let Me Go is centered around Kathy (played byCarey Mulligan and Izzy Meikle-Small), Ruth (played by Keira Knightley and Ella Purnell), and Tommy (played by Andrew Garfield andCharlie Rowe), who are human "clones" living purely to be future organ donors for "real" people. These three characters, along with hundreds and probably thousands of others, are raised in boarding schools around England without parents. Instead, teachers or guardians take care of raising and educating them, telling them as little as possible about the real world outside of the school (which feels more like a juvenile detention facility or prison). The kid clones only know what they need to, so that they understand, internalize and embrace their limited "special" life purpose and nothing more. It's a chilling scenario because these kids are all going to grow up just to give themselves over to die (or "complete" as it is called in the film). They are brainwashed from birth that they are simply living organ donations...nothing more...and that they are special because of that.
Never Let Me Go is a movie that really asks two key existential/spiritual questions: What makes us human? And why are we living? By looking at these questions through the abbreviated lives and experiences of these three cloned humans, we get this sort of abstract overall view of ourselves through their eyes. Is it love that makes us human? Is it sex that makes us human? Is it friendship that makes us human? Is it art that makes us human? Is it self-awareness that makes us human? These are answers to these core questions, along with many more, that the film ponders in a subtle way. The film doesn't really give answers as much as it asks the questions and allows the viewer to come to their own answers, if any, through the characters and their journeys. I like that the filmmakers here have left us with open-ended questions because it gives the movie something to continually look at over the course of my own life as I watch the film again.
I've listened to podcasts with writer Kazuo Ishiguro (who wrote the novel that this film is based on), screenwriter Alex Garland, and director Mark Romanek, and they all confirm that this film is really just a vehicle for looking at life in general and what it means for us to be living. It's a story of what it's like to be human. But because we are so self-aware, we often times have to see our lives through the lives of others to really see ourselves. And that is what cinema is all about in my mind. It's a vehicle for reflection...it's a mirror. Sometimes the mirror is ornated and jewel-encrusted, and other times it is plain and simple, like it is here. Kathy, Ruth & Tommy are trying to find the meaning in their short lives as clones, which they are told is their life purpose, just as we are trying to find the meaning and purpose in our lives as humans.
By having Kathy, Ruth & Tommy live shortened lives due to their planned organ donations, they have to deal with the issues of mortality and purpose early in their life. And they arrive at acceptance of their mortality in a quicker and more finite amount of time. Their lives are truncated, so they get to what's important in life faster than the rest of us. We typically linger through three of the clones' lifetimes before getting to where they get much earlier.
While Never Let Me Go is a bit slow in its pacing and editing at times, stumbling along the way, the movie really grabbed me internally after I left the theater and it has stayed in my mind ever since then. I think the story could have been told in a more engaging manner, but I give it credit for sinking its claws into me and not letting go. I can't say enough about the quality of the acting by the three leads. Knightly, Garfield, and Mulligan all really show their talents as up and coming actors in this feature.
The production design and cinematography on the film are both beautiful and appropriate for the story. While we don't really know if we're in the past or the future, the sort of 1960s to 1970s look and feel of Never Let Me Go worked for me to create an interesting context for the story to occur in. Rachel Portman's score has a beautifully quiet tone throughout the movie and it lends just the right emotional queues when necessary. I've listened to the score a dozen or more times on its own, and I really appreciate what Portman did here. She captured the existential questioning of the story in her score and every time I hear it, I think of the movie.
Never Let Me Go is a character-driven dramatic film with a lot of psychological depth to it. While on the surface it seems to have very few emotions throughout it, the emotions are there and they build-up to a satisfying ending for me. I think the film's lack of box office success is not due to the film itself as much as its due to the subject matter. Never Let Me Go is not an escapist movie by any means. So it's appeal to the general public is probably limited. It's a movie where you go to find out who your are internally and deal with those key questions in life that most people don't want to deal with. But if you have the courage to look within, Never Let Me Go may just give you something worth holding on to. It did for me.
WARNING: This review, like 80 percent of the other reviews here, does contain spoilers. This is a shame but the nature of this film simply requires the insertion of these spoilers in order to discuss the work. If you want to experience the full impact of this work, DO NOT read any of these reviews, including this one, until you have finished the book.
After all of these reviews it would be difficult for me to add anything new other than my personal opinion (and you know what they say about opinions), and the impact this work had on me while I was watching it, and indeed, the impact which remains with me. This is not a movie which I will soon forget. I realize that tastes in reading differ widely and this is good. Some will love this work as I did; others will despise it. I personally feel it is one of the best works; one of the better movies, I have watched over the past few years. But that being said, the film version of the novel is simply my cuppa and I fully realize that not everyone will share my taste...again, this is good. If we all liked the same thing...boring!
Now here is the first spoiler and it is a big one: The thrust of this entire film concerns the ethics of human cloning. This of course came to the attention of us all when Dolly the Sheep was cloned and there was much speculation as to the ethics and wisdom of human cloning. Now it will not take the viewer very long to figure this "mystery" section of the film out even though the film has skillfully led the reader in a round about way with little hints here and there. The viewer will very quickly realize that something is "just not right" about the situation as described.
This story is told though the voice of Kathy H. who is currently a "Carer," and a graduate of a very exclusive school. Her job is to travel around England and give care to those who are in the final phase of acting their part as "donors." Kathy is finishing her time as a "Carer," and is about to begin the next phase of her life.
The story is told in a series of reminiscences as told by Kathy as she remembers her time at Hailsham, the exclusive school mentioned above. The story centers around three primary characters, Kathy, the teller, and her two best friends, Tommy and Ruth.
Of course the reader will eventually place all the pieces of these intricate and detailed reminiscences together and figure out that all of these children have been cloned for the express purpose of harvesting their organs...one at a time, until they die. This is done when they become older and of age.
Now some have classified this work as Science Fiction. That would be an unfair assessment and could be likened to classifying `1984.' or `Brave New World," as Science Fiction. No, this work falls more or less into the category of social observations...what if scenario...not really a futuristic society, but rather a society that simply is; in this day and time...speculative fiction I suppose you could call it.
It is interesting to note that one once has the film offered the opinion of the rightness or wrongness of the situation. It has merely laid out the story and lets the reader shudder and become rather ill when they realize what is happening and allows the viewer to come to their own conclusions. The filming style is extremely detailed, dealing with emotions, facts and speculation and is filled with instances of digression; a method of telling the story I find extremely appealing and fits my taste in reading perfectly. Some find this cumbersome and a bit boring...I do not. I think the author's prose is beautiful and it is extremely thought provoking.
I found myself becoming extremely emotional while watching this work and admit that it touched me. Much has been written as to the fact that many feel it is unbelievable that the characters in this work can accept their fate, not make any great attempts to "escape" and accept their lot in life (for the most part) as natural. I personally found this aspect of the work to be spot on and feel the author was making some very good points here. All of us, in one way or another, accept social norms and accept our particular lot in life. We like to tell ourselves differently, but for the most part it is true. History pretty well teachers us that the majority of mankind, down through the ages, has been pretty sheep like in their obedience to social norms. Think about it. It has happened in the past and is still happening to us today when we kid ourselves, believing that we are too smart and too sophisticated to fall into such a trap. No, for me, the premise of the story is all too believable...which sort of makes me scared and sad at the same time.
Please do not that there are not explosions, car chases, desperate and exciting scenes of escape efforts, no violence, no special effects. This is a thinking film and to be quite frank, one of the most horrifying films I have seen in years.
I also might suggest that you read the book on which this work was based. Like the movie, it is truly a haunting story.
Like this film or hate this film, I seriously doubt that any viewer will not remember this one long after it has been read.