Never Let Me Go Review

WARNING: This review contains spoilers for the film from the outset. If you do not want to know what happens – please look away now.

Never Let Me Go, an adaptation of the 2005 Kazuo Ishiguro novel, is a movie that could give people the wrong impression when you try to explain it. “Yeah – it’s about this strange version of the UK where people are cloned and have their organs harvested.” The novel’s Wikipedia page lists it as a “dystopian Science-Fiction novel”, and the trailer is slightly manoeuvred in a way to make you think that it’s a film that builds up to shock revelation at the end (ala The Sixth Sense). In fact it’s neither of those things – it’s a film about the bond between three friends and the love triangle that forms between them whilst the dystopian elements run in the background.

The first twenty minutes of the film sets up the premise, but doesn’t make a conscious effort to build up a mystery – because you find out the donor twist twenty minutes in as the main characters do. It’s how the characters react to this that sets up the rest of the film, and it is captivating. The central trio of Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Tommy (Andrew Garfield) and Ruth (Keira Knightley) grow up in what looks like a boarding school. But there’s electronic tagging, overly strict health checks and a strong emphasis on creativity and a sense that this is all normal. In fact, once the characters discover what they are – there is no real revolt or attempt to change or really fight against what they are. On the one hand, it’s a frustrating waste of a plot that could’ve happened – on the other it’s a fascinating peek into the ethics and morals of a world where this is normal.

The driving force of the drama and conflict comes from the fact that Kathy has spent most of her life in love with Tommy, but Tommy and Ruth have gotten together. She never really does anything about it, keeping quiet on the sidelines. As they grow older, the reality of what they are starts to affect them and rumours of “deferrals” (which allow two donors who love each other to postpone their first donations for a few years) fracture the friendship. They meet up ten years later the donations starting and the creepy concept of “completion” (death) looming and try to make peace with each other…and then it ends with…well, it’s not that hard to predict.

The film is packed with emotion despite feeling like nothing is actually happening at times. There are several moments here which make you realise that you’re watching a film that was criminally snubbed by major awards groups. From the moment where Ruth tells Kathy that Tommy only sees her as a friend (in which the usually hit-and-miss Knightley channels bitch quite well), to the movie’s emotional highlight of Tommy’s primal scream of despair, there’s just several points where you can’t help but feel moved. The relationship between Kathy and Tommy is beautifully done, with Garfield expressing a hopeful naivety in a stark contrast to Mulligan’s acceptance of their fates. Mulligan manages to carry a calm maturity, being ever sympathetic and likable you can’t help but feel for Kathy. In fact, one of the things you realise whilst watching this film, is that Mulligan and Garfield are going to end up being MASSIVE and explode on the Hollywood A-List. They’re half way there with Mulligan having a role in Wall Street 2 and Garfield get praise for The Social Network and get cast as some superhero, but here you are witnessing the start of something special.

The script is strong, as the story is quite simple to allow for the characters to breathe and to maintain glimpses into this different UK. There’s no real strong twist or mystery to drive the plot forward except for the “deferrals” and mentions of a “gallery” – but the film is full of character beats that show the admittedly creepy acceptance that everyone has.

It’s not a feel good movie. It’s a weepy. It ends on a sour and depressing note, yet it maintains poignancy and it doesn’t leave your head until several, several hours later. Just be warned – this movie is about the characters discovering who they are, and not exploring what they are and why they are what they are.

But very recommended.

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