Never let me go

Director: Mark Romanek
Starring: Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, Keira Knightley and Charlotte Rampling
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox
Runtime: 103 mins. Reviewed in Nov 2011
| JustWatch |
Rating notes: Mature themes and sex scenes

One of the things that Never Let Me Go does is to make an audience realise the difference between much British and most American film-making. This British production, based on a sombre novel by Kazuo Ishiguro (who also wrote The Remains of the Day), shows a quiet, sometimes restrained British sensibility, suggestions of character and action rather than expansive explanations and the avoiding of a happy ending. It is in many ways a grim film, even a dour film.

The story is the reminiscences of Kathy (Carey Mulligan) who is watching a patient in a hospital. The rest of the film is principally flashbacks to her childhood and early adulthood. She belongs to a group of special children in a very British boarding school. They are sheltered and protected although so much of their life looks like the familiar styles of the 1940s and 1950s. They remain fearful of rumours of what the outside world is really like. They receive pep talks from the principal (Charlotte Rampling), although they are told something of what society has in mind for their lives by a sympathetic teacher (Sally Hawkins in a more serious role than usual). Kathy is friendly with Ruth and with the artistically inclined Tom. They form something of a trio.

As they grow up in the school, they prepare to go out into the world, their possibilities being carers or part of organ donor programs. That is their destiny. Which means that the science fiction elements of the narrative gradually creep up on the audience rather than being presented blatantly or sensationally. The opening information on screen is quietly statistical and sober.

Tom (Andrew Garfield) goes through adolescent issues and is attracted to Ruth (Keira Knightly) though he is quietly devoted to Kathy. He has given her a tape present with a song, Never Let Me Go, which she treasures. However, she is reticent in her responses and wittingly or unwittingly allows Ruth to manipulate Tom’s affections and behaviour. This continues as they go out to The Cottages, awaiting what their lives are meant to be.

Then, years pass as Kathy becomes a carer and loses touch with Ruth and Tom. When she does re-connect, situations have changed drastically. Ruth is making an assessment of her life and wants to make good the damage she felt she did to Kathy and Tom in the past. Tom clutches at the possibility of making something of a life with Kathy. But, given the destiny of their lives, is this possible? A visit to the principal and to the art teacher of their school provides pessimistic answers. They tell the two youngsters that the art that was collected in their school days was not to look into their souls and understand them, but to see whether they actually had souls.

This means that Never Let Me Go is a more subtle drama than we usually see, taking a rather indirect approach to characters and themes. This means it may be too low-key, even boring, for audiences who expect films to be more keyed up. For audiences who appreciate something different and quietly persuasive, this may be a satisfying and thoughtful, and rueful, experience.

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