Saturday 12 February 2011


Out now in cinemas is this adaption of Kazuo Ishiguro's novel.
Although I have tried to steer clear of specifics, it's impossible to talk about this film without revealing what could be deemed as spoilers. If you're willing to continue, you can watch the trailer and read my review, next...

Told across different times in their lives, Never Let Me Go tells the story of Kathy, Ruth and Tommy, three friends who grow up in a boarding school together and whose lives serve a tragic but inevitable purpose. Through their relationships with one another, the film aims to show us the true meaning of existence and the profound effect others can have on our lives.

Far from the tale of unrequited love it may seem from first appearances, Never Let Me Go quickly reveals itself to contain some surprising and unexpected genre elements. Much like how the recent Black Swan blindsided some audiences with its unforeseen aspects of horror, Never Let Me Go is an unconventional Philip K. Dickian story of love in an alternate world. It would be unfair to label this film with the slightly vulgar term 'sci-fi', more deserving of an explanation as to why it is a thought provoking drama with some 'science fiction' aspects to it.

The world these characters live in is very similar to ours, sharing most of our values and life experiences, but their lives are filled with sadness at what is expected of them. Conditioned at school to not argue with their allotted purpose, Kathy, Ruth and Tommy nonetheless search for meaningful relationships that can counterbalance the fateful nature of their existence.

The film begins at Hailsham, the boarding school where the three main characters spent their formative years being moulded into shape by a parade of matriarchal figures. It's a traditionally English school where you'd expect the privileged to attend, but Kathy, Ruth and Tommy are far from that. Delivery men are ushered in with boxes of rejected old trinkets and nic-nacs for the children to collect. It's quite a tragic display of false charity, like care packages of broken toys sent to orphanages because the owners just don't want them anymore.

The early Hailsham set scenes contains some fantastic performances by the young cast, easily the equal of their older counterparts. As the younger version of Kathy, Izzy Meikle-Small deserves particular note for convincingly portraying the tragic nature of the doomed childhood romance. Hailsham is quite a cold, unloving environment, with only Sally Hawkins' teacher offering any sympathy towards the bright-eyed and innocent children.

In the three central adult roles we have Carey Mulligan as Kathy, Keira Knightley as Ruth and Andrew Garfield as Tommy. They share what is perhaps the most tragic love triangle ever, their lives continually threatened by their predetermined fate. Keira Knightley is solid enough in what is an often unappealing role, but Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield prove why they've become some lauded talents recently, effortlessly watchable without needing to do much. Although most of the performances are understated, Garfield's Tommy is prone to displays of anger at his situation, never resigned to his fate and keen to show his frustrated humanity.

Director Mark Romanek has created a beautifully shot film, full of rich, earthy tones and contrastingly cold, sterile atmospheres. The original novel has been adapted by Alex Garland (Sunshine, 28 Days Later), delivering the subtlest piece of science fiction he's produced so far. It is a convincingly different world without being outlandishly technological, but the conflicting genres in the film don't always sit well together, occasionally clashing as they try to find an uneasy balance. However, it's a well acted but restrained drama with the central love triangle providing most of the story, which as it heads towards completion, is quite moving.

Never Let Me Go is a thought provoking meditation on the meaning of life and the need for purpose. It's the performances of Mulligan and Garfield that make it incredibly watchable, but the story also has the capacity to make you change your outlook on life. Fatalistically tragic, but altogether affecting stuff.



  1. With films like Solaris, Alphaville and Fahrenheit 451, I'd question the validity in calling sci-fi "vulgar". Each genre has its lesser examples, but those in sci-fi, as a more populist genre, get more attention. Never Let Me Go fits right in with those listed, especially Truffaut's masterpiece. Tonally, they are especially similar.

    Super review tho.

  2. That's a fair point, and I agree with your comparison to Fahrenheit 451.

    When I referred to sci-fi as a slightly vulgar term, I was more expressing a desire to not lump Never Let Me Go in with more standard Hollywood fare like The Island. As you said, the lesser examples.

    Obviously, sci-fi is a huge genre, but I can't help but feel that it's often used as shorthand for 'set in space' or 'futuristic'. I just wanted to make the differentiation.

    Thanks for the feedback!