Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Review: "Never Let Me Go"

Anyone who's been reading the blog for any amount of time will know that my love of Sci Fi and Fantasy far outweighs Matt's grudging sometimes acceptance of them (Game of Thrones).  You'll also know that Matt's love of indie and art house far outweighs my own.  So it's unusual to find a film that deftly captured much of what I believe we both love in cinema and combines it into a both heart wrenching and thought provoking examination of human nature.

Based on Kazuo Ishiguro's 2005 novel, the film takes place in an alternate reality where the human lifespan has been extended by 100 years through medical breakthroughs that occurred in the early 50's.  As the film opens, we are introduced to Kathy (Carrie Mulligan), through whom we will experience the rest of the events to come.  In short order we also become acquainted with Tommy (Andrew Garfield) and Ruth (Keira Knightly) as Kathy tells us the story of her childhood at a boarding school in the English countryside in the late 70's.  As the children grow we slowly come to understand more of the outside world through snatches of information, much as Kathy would have come to understand her situation.  Though we don't experience it ourselves until very late in the film, the outside world definitely has a presence here and appears to inform what goes on within the school.  A school that is designed to raise children whose entire purpose within society is to provide their organs to others, so that they may live on.

The overall style of the film is relaxed, using vignettes and short pieces of voice over from Mulligan to tell the (frankly) disturbing story of how humans have managed to extend their lives and what we've lost in the process.  The dissonance between the gorgeous visuals and the dystopian realities of this alternate universe, really set the viewer on edge throughout the film and to me, are handled flawlessly.  Hope, it seems, is the undying edict of the human spirit and while the events of the film can be seen as terrible and disturbing, the visuals continue to tell us that there is more here than simply the events unfolding.  There is an argument for the power and resilience of life.  The visual style here is so rich, in fact, that I'm wholly sure I'd have to re-watch the film to really pick up everything that's going on in the deceptively simple cinematography.

Certainly the premise is thought provoking: what is the value of human life?  What constitutes a "real" person and to what ends will society allow us to go in order to extend the lives of those we deem worthy.  With all that in mind, the film manages to remain remarkably tight lipped on the subject, laying out questions that cannot be easily answered and providing information about the unseen recipients of without vilifying them (as would be so easy to do).  The problem, it seems, is systemic: though a few may try to change the viewpoint of the many, the overall result is a continued plodding towards the same results as no one will take responsibility.  It is THIS inescapable reality that is the true horror of the film, a suggestion that as with any mass genocide it comes down to the human tendency to simply follow blindly and refuse responsibility for those around us.  It is a heady and disturbing idea of human nature but one I'm not totally convinced that the film believes to be true.

Overall the film does come down to the performances, many of which are fantastic but most important of all is Mulligan as Kathy, our ill fated protagonist.  She is hard but empathetic, responsible but reckless and ultimately reserved throughout but terribly sympathetic.  Her scenes with Garfield are among the most heartwrenching in the film.  Garfield too is well cast here as the unassuming and earnest Tommy, a boy with a rage problem who doesn't truly understand the world around him and manages to be unfailingly positive.  Only Knightly seems to struggle with a character who has no real depth here, though ultimately that may not be here fault as Ruth seems to exist only to fill out the story of Kathy and Tommy.  That said, since the entire film is told from Kathy's perspective, I'm not entirely sure that matters.

Interestingly the ending made me think of Battle Royale, even before I realized that this too was a dystopian novel from a Japanese writer.  Now while both born in Japan, there is a difference in upbringing here since Ishiguro was raised in England, where his Battle Royale counterpart (Koushun Takami) was raised and still resides in Japan.  Certainly there are similar themes here but an observation could be made here that in his treatment of the participants in the Battle Royale Takami embraces the violence so often seen in Japanese media (Manga, Anime, live action films etc.) even as Ishiguro's story treats a similar theme with the restraint and secretiveness so often attributed to the British.  It makes for an interesting counterpoint.  Never Let Me Go is now available on Netflix.

My rating: 3.25 out of 4


  1. Were you high? I HATED this movie.

  2. And that, my dear sir, is why we write a blog together.... For variety.

    Can elaborate on what you disliked? I'm keen to know.

  3. Apparently I found it emotionally vacant, at least from my old review:

  4. I was looking for that!! I was sure you had reviewed it, I didn't then it was that old! Well I sort of liked the vacancy but perhaps I was just in the right head space for it. Or beguiled by Ms Mulligan :)

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