To start off the new year I have decided to talk about a film many people may not have seen in 2010 but should have.
Never Let Me Go based on a novel by British author Kazuo Ishiguro (he also penned The Remains of the Day), is directed by Mark Romanek and stars Carey Mulligan (Kathy), Keira Knightley (Ruth) and Andrew Garfield (Tommy).
From the opening credits the rules of engagement are laid before us – we are not in Kansas (or England) anymore. Where we are in a parallel/alternate world from ours where essentially all diseases are curable. However as one would surmise, with such great progress, there is a cost to be paid.
We then open on to Kathy (Carey Mulligan) in what appears to be an operating room. She is our guide on this journey; right now, she is gazing at who we will come to know as Tommy (Andrew Garfield). In voice over, she starts the story that will eventually bring us back to this scene in the film’s closing chapter …
Enter flashback to Hailsham, a boarding school located in the English countryside. It is apparent that by the way the students interact with one another and the regimented, sterile environ, that something is quite not so kosher at Hailsham.
Eventually, the dark secret of lies within and without the walls of the school. From this point forward, we the audience understand full and well the “cost” of society’s scientific achievement.
Over the next two acts of the film, we see Kathy and her friends move from their school days at Hailsham to “The Cottages” and finally into the adulthood which is sealed in a tragic fate.
Never Let Me Go is delicately and beautifully filmed by cinematographer Adam Kimmel. As for director Mark Romanek I mainy know him as an acclaimed music video director. To date, this is only his third feature film – one of the other two films being One Hour Photo (2002). He has a great eye; in fact, he is a good visual storyteller. As I watched the film I was taken with just how visual it was. During more than a couple of passages, it felt like there was very little actual dialogue. Whether or not by design, this scheme boded well for my viewing experience. The musical score of veteran Rachel Portman enhanced this.
Overall, the performances are very well executed. Carey Mulligan goes from strength to strength in the central performance as Kathy – it is through eyes and voice that we see and hear the story. In a slight departure, Keira Knightley portrays a character that is at once vindictive and at the same time sympathetic. Andrew Garfield’s Tommy is the most sympathetic character because he seems the most hopeful in the face of what is essentially a great human tragedy. The performances of our leads evoke an emotive response from the audience because we already know what they will eventually have to come to terms with – the inescapable fact of their lives’ mission and purpose.
A notable supporting performance is by Sally Hawkins as “the harbinger of doom” to her pupils. Early on she tells the students what is to come of their lives, your heart breaks in despair. What struck me was the “as a matter of fact” way she delivers the message and the expression on the faces of the students.
In reflection, I am reminded of a film with a similar cloning-dystopian theme, The Island. Don’t worry, I only use it as a point of comparison. While the bleak Never Let Me Go may not have the audience wish fulfillment conclusion the far inferior Island offers us, it had a pathos and I dare say “soul” which makes us shoot back to our side of the parallel worlds and think a little.
And, as the screen fades to beige, we are reminded of the following: that this is no matter the length or “purpose” of theirs or anyone’s lives, “completion” is an “act” that will ultimately visit upon us all.