Film review: Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go
DNA Films, Film4

STARRING Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, Andrew Garfield
WRITTEN BY Alex Garland (screenplay) adapted from the book by Kazuo Ishiguro
PRODUCED BY Mark Romanek, Alex Garland, Andrew Macdonald, Allon Reich
DIRECTED BY Mark Romanek

SHOT BY Adam Kimmel
EDITED BY Barney Pilling
MUSIC BY Rachel Portman
DISTRIBUTED BY Fox Searchlight Pictures

Screened 2010-10-05

OK. So we’ve got some sort of alternate universe in which medical science has the capacity to cure all of humanity’s ailments. The cost is that a select number of individuals are bred from birth to be Donors (there are also Carriers, but honestly, I never quite understood what that entailed, as most expository information is subtly alluded to). These individuals will be harvested for their organs, then they die. They are raised in private schools, sequestered from all society, and basically live their lives as sheltered children. It’s a great deal like that book we read in grade school, The Giver. If my description of this universe sounds terrifically cold and brutal, the film acts like the schoolmasters which raise these retarded children: equanimous, somber, and rigid but caring, like loving parents. Everything is glossed and lightly desaturated, observed with intended distance, and the general impression I have is that the filmmakers were doing their best to achieve a level of “archetypal storytelling,” which I do not think is successful. The film feels far too modern.

Aha… in reading up about the film, I see now that they are Carers, not Carriers. How silly of me. Well that explains why it seems like they did very little.

Oh – yes! There are characters to speak of, I suppose, but really, all they do is play out, yes, yada yada, an ageless love triangle within this curious sci-fi universe. Carey Mulligan seems to bear an expression of eternal wistfulness and winsomeness. You just want to take her and squeeze her and kiss her to death – but of course that’s only because she is cast to achieve that very effect. The film’s general tone, after all, is aching, longing acquiescence (but be careful! – the film is so delicate it may crumble if you’re not careful). Her character is also perpetually passive and nigh-teary-eyed, always viewing this absurd world as if she’s on the verge of meeting her maker and forgiving him for it. This passivity, if you ask me, makes it pretty difficult to give a damn about what happens. The boy she’s in love with, Andrew Garfield, is rather clueless and dopey and is easily seduced by equally two-dimensional Triangle Completer Keira Knightley, the shallow, opportunistic, self-conscious ‘best friend.’ Mulligan’s character spends much of her short life yearning for her boy – but she’s so damned good at yearning, why wouldn’t we want that? Oh, and we are treated to two delightful cameos by Brit femme superstars Charlotte Rampling and Sally Hawkins, as Schoolmaster And Teacher (obviously).

I’m sure Kazuo Ishiguro’s book is swell, and allegedly is the best book of the 2000s (says Time magazine, like I’d trust them!!). Ishiguro is British-Japanese and also responsible for The Remains of the Day. I find it amusing that British culture and customs (here seen as one of those eternal, again, British boarding schools) would be so meticulously chronicled by a foreigner, let alone an Easterner (he must’ve been the only Asian kid in his class)… but then perhaps that explains everything, why such customs would be dissected at all, and why with such curiosity and melancholy. Ishiguro (whom I’ve never read, only watched) seems to view the world as far outside his control, absurd, cruel, beautiful, and extraordinarily sigh-inducing. As for our director, Romanek made a film in 1985 called Static which is supposed to be exceptional… but his current track record, including this film and 2002’s terminally weak One Hour Photo, is less than stellar. Get it 2getha, Roma!

written by David Ashley