Never Let Me Go

Last week I checked out a film called Never Let Me Go. It is a British science-fiction film by Mark Romanek, starring Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield. There were three big pulls for me with this movie. First, it is a British science-fiction film and these are so rare that they are worthy of attention for that reason alone. That said, the respectable Monsters - which I previously reviewed – also falls into that category. Secondly, the film is based on the novel of the same name by Booker prize winning author Kazuo Ishiguro. Thirdly, it was adapted for screen by Alex Garland, writer of Sunshine and 28 Days Later.

For those who have not read the book or seen the film I won’t give away the central conceit, but I will say that it shares science fiction ground with many other films examining the same issues. The visual style was completely fitting in its suggestion of period / British drabness and I thought that the acting was excellent from the three leads. Their delivery was understated, yet effective – even in Keira Knightley’s case – but it was really Carey Mulligan that did a great deal with very little.

The most striking aspect of the film for me was the way in which the protagonists accepted their fate. I know in my head that this is an exceptionally brave decision for both Ishiguro and Garland in being so faithful to the book’s ending. So frequently in cinema – and science fiction films – the protagonists rebel against their designated fate and do everything in their power to resist the consequences of compliance. In Never Let Me Go the emotional landscape is determined not by highs of escape or the fears of fighting back against the system. The undulations are a great deal more subtle: love lost; the agony of isolation; the burden of loneliness and not knowing your place in the world. I wanted the characters to throw off the chains of eventuality and break free. When the story went in another - and looking back, entirely logical direction - I did feel the emotional absence of the fight and the heart-thumping satisfaction of escape. It is difficult to tell if this is a failing in the film or simply what I was intended to feel. I suspect the latter and for this reason it is an excellent, heart-wrenching and fitting conclusion. This was perfect for the novel and very restrained for Garland, but there is a reason why I hankered for characters I had grown to like to resist their fate. There is a reason why so many science fiction films dealing in similar subject matter are obliged to indulge their protagonists’ desires to battle the system. They all, in their own way, represent the irrepressibility of the human spirit. Frustratingly – and perhaps intentionally so – the human spirit and the desire to survive, seems to be demonstrated by everyone else living in Never Let Me Go's universe but – with the exception of a few minor rebellions and fantasies - not in the novel’s main characters.

If you are looking for some Saturday night, high-octane, science-fiction-actioner then you shouldn’t pick up Never Let Me Go. It is a film of ideas, excellent acting and subtlety. Its science-fiction conceit is not a peripheral concern and runs straight through the story’s heart but will probably leave audiences with an appetite for high-budget, CGI, American sci-fi severely wanting. Approached with appropriate expectations, most will find it a brave and engaging film.

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