DIR: Mark Romanek • WRI: Alex Garland • PRO: Alex Garland, Andrew Macdonald, Allon Reich • DOP: Adam Kimmel • ED: Barney Pilling • DES: Mark Digby • CAST: Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield
Modern sci-fi films are not normally something to be taken very seriously. For every Moon or District 9, there are dozens of Transformers or The Island. And like The Island, this film is also about young, attractive clones trying to fight against their futures. But that is where the similarities end.
Never Let Me Go is a film born of pedigree; director Mark Romanek is a much loved music video director, writer Alex Garland is a dab hand at adapting difficult material (The Beach) as well as intelligent sci-fi (Sunshine), and the source material is the critically acclaimed novel by Kazuo Ishiguro. Add to this the fact that the cast is filled out by some of Britain’s hottest young stars, and the film should’ve been a walk in the park. But for some reason, the film was entirely snubbed by the awards season, and has barely made back $2 million of its $15 million budget so far in the States.
Quite why this is the case isn’t clear, as the film is almost staggeringly brilliant. Split into three time-periods during an alternative past, the first section finds Kathy, Ruth and Tommy in 1978, in Havisham; a boarding school filled with future ‘donors’. Here the love triangle is set-up, with Kathy falling for Tommy, but Tommy falls for the more aggressively persuading Ruth. Jumping forward to 1985, the three now living in The Cottages, where Kathy (now played by Carey Mulligan), Ruth (Keira Knightley) and Tommy (Andrew Garfield) meet other donors from other boarding schools, and rumours of deferrals surface; if a couple can prove their love, then the date of their donations can be pushed back several years.
The final section, set in 1994, shows the trio reuniting after years apart, and the consequences of their actions from years ago finally hitting home. To say any more of the story would detract from its full power hitting home, but this film isn’t primarily about plot. It aims for some of the biggest themes that there are; religion, science, love and death are all dealt with head on. We’re told at the beginning of the movie that due to these scientific advancements, the average human life-span is now well over 100, and as such, most of the humans in the film are much older than the leads. The trio are referred to as ‘creatures’ and are met with either disgust or sympathy by everyone they meet.
But the film isn’t interested in the sci-fi elements of the story. They exist, but solely as background noise to the heart-breaking love story at its centre. These three aren’t looking for a way to escape from their fates, they accept it without question. Their situation is approached as if this were a film about terminal illness, in that they know what’s coming, but all they want is a little more time. Like all good, doomed love stories, it all comes down to timing.
Carey Mulligan is fantastic as a girl in love left on the side-lines. Andrew Garfield is fast fulfilling his prophecy of ‘The Next Big Thing’, filling his role to the brim with confused lust and barely contained rage. And Keira Knightley, in the closest to what this film has in terms of villainy, manages to be both hateful and sympathetic in a part that could’ve been nothing more than ‘Bitchy Best Friend’.
For the most part, the film doesn’t fill in any blanks. It expects you to pay attention as words like ‘carer’, ‘guardian’ and ‘original’ are bandied about without definition. It doesn’t spell anything out, and aside from a slightly over-bearing, heartstring-tugging score, any reactions you might have should come naturally. And if your viewing experience is anything like the one this reviewer attended, expect a lot of ruined mascara on the way out.
IFCO website for details)
Never Let Me Go is released on 11th February 2011