Never Let Me Go is based on the Kazou Ishiguro novel, and the film really feels like it. Now, I have never read the novel, but there are enough gaps in the film that you can sort of tell it was based off one. I could be entirely wrong about that, because I knew it was based on a novel before I watched it, but that allowance still doesn’t shake the feeling I had that the movie was missing something. I could be just approaching wrong and missing the entire point, but hear me out.
The film takes place in a world in which medical breakthroughs in the 60s have allowed humans to live longer than ever before. This extended lifespan comes a price, as clones are created to harvest organs for transplantation. The regular humans may be living longer, but the clones are finished by the time they’re in their mid-20s. In the midst of this depressing landscape, Tommy (Andrew Garfield), Kathy (Carey Mulligan), and Ruth (Kiera Knightley) are involved in a love triangle and have even less time than usual to figure it all out.
The film does several things well. It conveys a sense of emotional maturity, even when the characters may not exhibit it. Everything runs at a slow and measured pace, making events seem they’re more tranquil than they actually are. You understand that the characters are having issues, but they are all internalized. It’s not that you don’t feel for them, but it’s harder to truly identify with them because of this. Nevertheless, the pacing and acting style help you realize that these characters are a group of friends trying to figure themselves out rather than simply another group of overly emotional hormone driven teenagers (though there is definitely some of that as well). There are a lot of beautiful images in the film, and the muted color scheme also suggests harmony.
There are many films that astound me by telling a personal story and a broad story equally well. Unfortunately, this is not one of them. The personal story is moving, but I’m sorry, it’s just not as interesting as the sci-fi elements in the background. I wanted to know a lot more about the cloning stuff than I did about these characters and their love triangle. The clone stuff was largely in the background, conveyed by small details. A few times it was allowed to reach the forefront, and these are the best parts in the movie, hands down. This reminds me, though it happened to a greater extent in that movie, of the problem I had with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. That movie had a cool sci-fi concept too, which also turned out not to affect the characters involved as much as I expected it to. Of course that’s the point of the whole thing, but I just can’t see how that would actually be the case, were something like this to happen.
Never Let Me Go is an interesting film and quite an enjoyable watch, but I’m left feeling a bit empty by it because it wasn’t exactly what I expected. While what the film has to say is interesting, I ultimately have a hard time seeing the subject the way the film does. This doesn’t make it a bad film, but nevertheless I can’t fully get behind it. I wanted to know more about the societal backdrop, but instead we got the love triangle thing. Still, I’d be interested to see how the book compares, mostly to see if it fills out the world more.
“We didn’t have the Gallery in order to look into your souls. We had the Gallery in order to see if you had souls at all.”
Long story short: 3/4 stars
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