“Never Let Me Go” Review
Many a film has been made in the past about dystopian societies, perfect worlds where nothing bad ever happens. Tales of people lucky enough to live forever in harmony with themselves and each other. Hardly ever are there stories of the unlucky ones, those who are locked out in the cold. People who not only never get to experience the sweet life, but are literally thrown in the fire for civilization’s expense. This is one such story.
“Never Let Me Go” is the sophomore effort of music-video director Mark Romanek, the creator of the very sub-par thriller “One Hour Photo” starring Robin Williams. It would seem that he had bitten off more than he could chew by helming the adaptation of what Time Magazine called the best novel of the decade. However, the inevitable disappointment never occurred. The film excels on a number of different levels.
It is set in the backdrop of a reality in which a breakthrough medical miracle provides a cure for a great number of human illnesses, allowing people to live longer and happier lives. This world, however, comes at the cost of a very small fraction of the population, individuals who are genetically cloned, raised healthily behind closed doors and eventually harvested for their vital organs.
Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield play three of these unfortunate souls, Kathy, Ruth and Tommy (names ordered respectively). While children, given a privileged upbringing at the pleasant Hillsham Academy, they are kept completely sheltered from the rest of the world. It is here that the mousy Kathy develops a crush on Tommy, who is outcasted from the other boys. However, her emotions are stifled when her best friend Ruth moves in and steals Tommy out from under her nose. It is around this time when, from a leak in the faculty, the children learn the reason of their existence and perhaps realize how short life is…literally.
As they grow older, they begin to move out and experience a bit more of the real world. They also discover that for select couples that graduate from Hillsham and can prove their love for each other, a deferral could be available from the point at which they must begin their “donations.” Now, the love triangle that began years ago becomes less romantic and more vital for survival as the countdown to their lives’ completion continues to tick down.
All around, the film is an honorable achievement. The first thing that is noticed is not only the subtle, yet fantastic acting, but the wonderful casting of the three leads, both as adults and children. Each individual knows their character’s limits and boundaries and meticulously stays within them. Romanek also works from a very subdued perspective and never allows the story to become sentimental or melodramatic. In fact, one of the film’s strongest facets is its ability to portray this horrible place in such a matter-of-fact way. The film becomes so much more haunting when treated as a reality that must be faced eventually by the protagonists. Even the sought-after deferrals are only effective for a few years, and then it’s back to square one.
The cinematography, while for the most part dull and fairly uninspired, does lens as gray and bleak a dystopian society has ever seen in its own mirror. However, the truly technical standout in the film is its beautiful score. Always lurking in the background and yet never overpowering the acting or visuals, the music will leave you moved and even a bit shaken. Pay close attention to the haunting strings in use at the bleakest moments of the film and you realize that they are driving the emotional core. While the film is becoming less of an Oscar contender each week, this nomination for Rachel Portman should be assured.
If one qualm could be made of this solid production, it would be a plea for just a bit more of an emotional wallop. Without descending into complete melodrama, more needed to be made by the screenplay of the fact that every one of these kids is doomed. This is a sad story. No one can deny that. And yet as haunting and dreary as it is, the film is never really a tearjerker, and this is one that’s truly allowed to be. Yet even if it won’t make you cry, see this film for what it does make you do: realize that every gift, no matter how amazing and brilliant, comes at a horrible price.