Oct 27 2010

Never Let Me Go

Understated, tender and resonate. 3 1/2 out of 4 Stars

Never Let Me Go is not the first film about cloning and organ harvesting, yet it’s the first film to do so seriously, and in the subtlest of forms.  In fact, the film is less about cloning and more about the human condition, which makes it truly original and effective.

The film takes place in an alternate timeline, in which cloning has been discovered in the Fifties, and in the Sixties, these clones have been used as involuntary organ donors.  As a result, a number of mankind’s worst diseases are very treatable, and human beings live well into their hundreds.

It should be noted that the term “clone” is never uttered in the film.  Not once.  This is done, for one, so that the film avoids falling into schlocky Clonus Horror-territory, but also because the film is not about cloning, nor is it really even about clones; it’s about just what makes us human to begin with.

The core of the film lies between the friendship and subsequent love triangle between Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Tommy (Andrew Garfield) and Ruth (Keira Knightley) through three different time periods; first, as children in a “special” boarding school in the Seventies, then as teenagers in the Eighties, then finally as adults in the mid-Nineties.  Although friendships interrupted by love interests tends to be more of a hacky cliché in films, the relationships between the three principle characters exhibits a depth and maturity that drives the film.

There is a gray gloom that is ever-present throughout the film; at times it appears as though Never Let Me Go was shot through a very light, yet equally noticeable layer of fog.  Obviously, such cinematography provides a very gloomy visual effect, but it accompanies the film’s general setting, which resembles England’s idyllic early twentieth century countryside.  It is only the sight of ID bracelet’s and hospital technology that reminds you that it several decades further than you would initially suspect.

This anachronistic aesthetic is absolutely imperative to the film because it consistently, yet tacitly reminds you that these people live apart from the rest of the world; out of time and out of touch from any kind of world that holds a future that does not end on an operation table.

Director Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo) and screenwriter Alex Garland (28 Weeks Later and Sunshine) go well out of their way to downplay the science-fiction elements of Never Let Me Go.  This approach coincides with the original novel, written by Kazaou Ishiguro, which was not a sci-fi novel, but a haunting love story with questions concerning what it means to be human that was set against the backdrop of a science fiction concept.

The dogged humanity of these characters must be attributed to the lead actors, as they each possess a sincerity that brings their characters to life.  Knightley does a wonderful job as the spiteful, almost mean-spirited Ruth who somehow manages to remain sympathetic, even when she’s at her worst.  Mulligan brings an understated, yet powerful maturity, not unlike her role in An Education, to the tragic, introspective Kathy, who also narrates the film.

Andrew Garfield, who also stars in this year’s The Social Network, portrays the film’s most human character.  On top of providing a youthful vitality and a real passion that goes against his social norm, there is a desperation to the character that yearns for a life, an identity and a love that renders him the most heartbreaking and heartwarming character in the film.

There is an ethical, and maybe even a moral question that permeates throughout the Never Let Me Go: Are these characters human?  Yet, we aren’t beaten over the head with this question, nor are we bombarded by clearly stated answers.  No, the film takes its time, and reveals to us a very human story, rather than one that concerns itself too much with questions and conundrums and resolutions presented in a neat little package.  Instead, Never Let Me Go simply tells the story of three people who experience life, love and loss just like the rest of us and wonder, perhaps even more than the rest of us, what it all means in the end.

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