The film Never Let Me Go is based on Kazuo Ishiguro’s Booker Award winning novel and directed by Mark Romanek. It concerns itself with a group of children growing up in Hailsham, a boarding school in what may or may not be the English countryside. No parents are in evidence, only teachers who make sure the children eat right, do their lessons and stay healthy. We quickly learn that these children are clones whose sole purpose, once they reach maturity, will be to provide society with organs used for transplants to enable people to live longer lives.
Carey Mulligan plays Kathy H., the narrator of the piece. When we meet Kathy as a child in Halisham, her friendship with the troubled Tommy is hampered by the meddling Ruth, who envies the pair’s camaraderie. In a touching scene, Tommy finds a cassette tape at a school rummage sale, and presents it to Kathy. The tape is of a 1950s crooner singing the song that inspired the title of the film. This haunting theme remains with Kathy for the rest of her days, a reminder of Halisham, those she lost and the life she would never have.
Andrew Garfield plays the adult Tommy, and Kiera Knightly, the grown-up Ruth. As the time for them to become donors draws near, they and others of their kind are allowed to live free in cottages on a rural farm. Tommy and Ruth begin a sexual relationship but it can’t get in the way of the obvious connection he and Kathy continue to share. As time runs out for all of them, they attempt to delve deeper into who they are. They know they are all modeled after someone. Ruth’s “original” is thought to be spotted in town and they take a car trip to seek her out. They also make an attempt to find out why their artwork was so revered in Halisham. Whatever knowledge they come away with does nothing to change their fates, which is the most heartbreaking thing about the film.
The performances, like the story, are well worth the price of admission. Garfield gives a richly evocative performance as the adult Tommy, a man who is aware that his weakness has prevented him from being with Kathy. The fact that he knows this can never be rectified hangs over him until the end. He has a haunted, young Anthony Perkins look, which adds to the depth of his portrayal.
Kiera Knightly’s portrays Ruth with a simmering undertone of malice for her lot, and for the fact that Tommy will never truly be hers. She gives Ruth’s insecurities and misgivings a subtlety that enables the viewer to sympathize with her, regardless of how unsympathetic her character is.
It is Carey Mulligan’s portrayal of Kathy that is most captivating. She brings an angelic quality to the role, which is appropriate since toward the end she becomes a “carer”, tending and comforting those who are dying from their donations until it is her turn to go.
The film does Ishiguro’s book justice but I would have liked to see more care taken with the big reveal as to why the children were being kept in Hailsham. The clone revelation is foisted upon the audience almost from the start. It would have been more effective had it been kept from us just a little while more, as it is in the book.
There is no skimping on the extras included on the DVD. You’ll find a fascinating overview of the production of the movie in “Secrets of Never Let Me Go“, including interviews with the cast, director Romanek, producers Allon Reich and Andrew McDonald, screenwriter Alex Garland, and author Kazuo Ishiguro. There are also behind the scenes videos, and stills taken by Romanek.
Many more of Romanek’s black and white stills from the production are offered in “Mark Romaek’s On-Set Photography”.
The featurette “Tommy’s Art” contains artwork from the character’s notebooks.
“National Donor Programme and Hailsham Campaign Graphics” feature the posters and pamphlets designed especially for inclusion the film.
Never Let Me Go could be the story of a dark future, of a past that might have been or life in a parallel universe. Its message could also be intended as a warning. But whatever the writer’s intent, the film is compelling, poignant, and disturbing.