Monday, October 11, 2010
Never Let Me Go
If Never Let Me Go is science fiction, it is that oddly British sort of science-fiction, begun by H.G. Wells, full of anachronistic contrasts, in which chaps fly to the moon or travel through time while other chaps play cricket and drink beer in pubs. Or perhaps it shares more similarities with British dystopian novels such as Nineteen Eighty-Four, Brave New World, A Clockwork Orange, and A Handmaid’s Tale, in which the futuristic setting is merely a platform for the exploration of ideas, and the workings of that world are unimportant or vaguely explained. Whatever the case might be, Never Let Me Go takes science fiction elements, places them in contemporary English settings, most of them pastoral, and uses the incongruities as a backdrop for a touching story of love and identity in the face of a dark destiny.
In Never Let Me Go, directed by Mark Romanek, screenplay by Alex Garland based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, an English boarding school called Hailsham, housed in a sprawling stone manor in the country, controls the upbringing of “orphaned” children chosen for a special function. In the quiet, somewhat slow first third of the movie, young Kathy H. (Izzy Meikle-Small) must suppress her affection for Tommy (Charile Rowe), an awkward, slow-witted lad who’s nevertheless rather cute in a disheveled, baggy-trousers, preppie sort of way. Kathy suffers as she watches her best friend, Ruth (Ella Purnell), win Tommy’s affection before she can.
At Hailsham, Headmistress Miss Emily (Charlotte Rampling) keeps a tight ship. The kids file off to bed with a cup of vitamins and a small bottle of milk, their artwork is examined and collected by Madame (Nathalie Richard), and the children’s favorite occasion involves a pathetic flea market stocked with a “bumper crop” of castoff, broken odds and ends they purchase with buttons and plastic tokens.
When the kids turn young adults, they get shipped off to various “Cottages” where they await their destiny. As luck would have it, Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth end up in the same “Cottage” where Kathy (Carey Mulligan) suffers in proximity with a more mature, physical love developing between Ruth (Keira Knightley) and Tommy (Andrew Garfield). This third of the film introduces turmoil over various rumors about the young people's past that serve to speed up the pace and take us into the more dramatic final third of the story.
I don’t believe it’s much of a spoiler to say that these young people’s destiny is made clear in the film’s powerful opening scene in which the observer, Kathy, begins her narration of past events. Beyond that, anyone who has seen even a modest amount of science fiction can easily guess at the darker dystopian secret.
But this is not just a Masterpiece Theater-like version of an oft-told sci-fi tale. Much more than that, it is a deeply poignant examination of humanity, love, and the definition of the soul that is dramatized by the touching performances of the actors playing the three main characters as children, as well as by Mulligan, Knightley, and Garfield.
After the film arrives at its lyrical but tragic closing scene, wonderfully acted by Mulligan, the story lingers with you as you might wonder about the vaguely suggested logistics of conducting and controlling the industry responsible for this massive horror. The film’s power comes from the dramatic juxtaposition of beautifully captured images of seaside beauty, notably a lone fishing boat resting on a low-tide beach, in contrast with austere interiors, rigidly regimented angles of institutional architecture, and images that reveal the horror. One image involving Keira Knightley is a pulse-pounding shocker. Throughout, the film tells its tragic story with quiet poetry while the touching performances of Garfield, Knightley, and Mulligan ensure that you will not soon forget Tommy, Ruth, and Kathy.