Never Let Me Go

2 Dec

Director: Mark Romanek (2010)

neverletmegoHave you ever wondered what we’re all here for? Admittedly a rather philosophical opener for a film review but one that reverberates through Mark Romanek’s Never Let Me Go, adapted from Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel of the same name. With the screenwriting help of Alex Garland (The Beach), Never Let Me Go is a subtle but provoking look into an alternative Britain, one where tradition and technology meet in a brutal dystopia.

Through captions, we are told that in 1952 there was a medical breakthrough that meant that human life could be extended beyond 100 years. If we place such a claim within the usual science fiction template, you’d be forgiven for expecting a film more akin to Alien than a Famous Five novel, but with its washed out colours and traditional tweed clad children, Never Let Me Go may be set in another world but very much on our planet – a thought that makes the themes of the film even more unnerving.

Our narrator Kathy (Carey Mulligan) has known Ruth (Keira Knightley) and Tommy (Andrew Garfield) since they were young and pupils at the imposing Hailsham House.  It is an unusual place, all children must keep themselves ‘healthy on the inside’, never leave the perimeters of the school into the outside world and are all encouraged to create art and poetry for the revered ‘The Gallery’. These are very well behaved children, rigidly aligned in every sense from their Victorian style classrooms to their prim uniforms and appearance. It’s almost too perfect… Miss Lucy (Sally Hawkins)is a new teacher at Hailsham, and therefore new to the secrets that lie within its sprawling grounds and corridors – it is through her we learn the truth that awaits the Hailsham children, informing both the audience and the children of their fate. They are all bred to be organ donors for a clone of themselves, their ‘original’.

The first part of the film focuses on the relationships that develop and deteriorate between the three characters as they move amidst a love triangle which leaves Kathy on the outskirts to observe manipulative Ruth and her best friend, Tommy throughout their time at Hailsham. Moving forward in time, we revisit the three as adults, fulfilling their assigned careers. Kathy is now a ‘carer’ looking after those in the process, while Ruth and Tommy, still a couple, are part way through ‘completing’ their contracts. While time has passed, the love triangle is still just as sharp but not even more complicated by the rumours that couples who can prove their love can apply for a deferral from their inevitable duties. But is it worth it when at the end of the day, we will all have to complete?

Carey Mulligan plays Kathy with sensitivity but also a sense of practical acceptance, a touching but understated performance, particularly in her relationship with Tommy. As this weak willed character, Garfield is a world away from his usual cheeky onscreen personas, anaemic and weakened by a naivety that he has carried throughout life – and also by his prescribed surgeries. The concept alone that you are born (and bred) to know your place in the world and your ultimate fate, and a cruel fate at that, is painful enough but to have to watch the man you love similarly dismantled to ‘completion’ is unthinkable. Romanek delivers this contemplative theme with compassion and strangely, beauty, portraying Ishiguro’s dystopia in a rightfully disturbing way with the suffocating inevitability of all the character’s fate set out from the early stages.

A quietly chilling but provocative film, questioning not only the idea of knowing your assigned lot in life, however short it may be, but also the impact of the relationships we have with the people we choose to spend it with.

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