Never Let Me Go
|February 16, 2011||Posted by Liam Morgan under entertainment, reviews|
In undertaking the arduous task of adapting Kazuo Ishiguro’s beloved novel Never Let Me Go, it seems Alex Garland has firmly established himself as one of the world’s leading science fiction screenwriters. While his previous Danny Boyle-directed projects have given him confidence within the genre (The Beach, Sunshine, 28 Days Later), his latest adaptation has allowed him to manipulate the conventions of a traditional sci-fi film to produce a genre-bending and truly thought-provoking piece of work.
The story centres around three seemingly ordinary school children, with the first act taking place in the boarding establishment Hailsham as the trio forge their turbulent relationship. Our main protagonist Kathy (Carey Mulligan) falls deeply in love with Tommy (Andrew Garfield) at a very early stage, but her heart is broken when she sees him fall for another (Keira Knightley’s Ruth). As the plot develops, we see Kathy’s continued pain from living without Tommy’s affection and somewhat in the shadow of Ruth.
Standard dramatic fare, right? But here’s the catch: the students of Hailsham are all clones, bred for organs to replace the ones in their ageing real-world counterparts. It is therefore this three-person relationship that the film focuses on, in an attempt to draw upon the human drama involved in what could easily be perceived as a science fiction driven story. As a result, Never Let Me Go feels more like a period drama piece than anything else, with long lingering shots of British boarding school architecture or calming countryside not uncommon amongst its focal repertoire. Director Mark Romanek (who made his name in the music video industry) lingers perhaps a little too often on these images, moving the storyline at a gentle but drawn-out pace.
The widescreen format Romanek chooses to use is consistently exploited, with cinematographer Adam Kimmel (Capote) allowed free roam when presenting the surrounding countryside and windswept outdoor scenes. In this sense the film is decidedly cinematic, managing to create a sense of grandeur even when shooting everyday events. The characters’ relationships are primarily represented through these images, the fragmented central triptych forming the base of many shot constructs; at many times in the film Ruth is placed between the other two, reflecting how she continues to keep them apart. In a rather distracting fashion however, Romanek chooses to rapidly switch focus between fore and background within the scene, and while this brings a sense of immediacy to proceedings it is hard to lose oneself in the storyline when this technique is picked up on.
Speaking thematically, the film shares common ground with such novels as Ian McEwan’s Atonement (the adaptation of which, incidentally, starred Keira Knightley) with one character trying in vain to atone for their sins after years of living in denial. The best thing about Never Let Me Go, however, is the fascinating moral conundrums that it raises, particularly about whether the human race should assume the role of God in order to protect itself. The shocking way in which clones are treated as second class citizens is central to the film’s message, mainly to arouse debate over what value should be attributed to life in its many forms.
And yet, while the sci-fi-grounded-in-reality concept is a novel and refreshing one, it still seems that the hypothetical moral issues involving genetic science are more importantly placed in the film’s priorities than the characters are. No pathos is successfully created for any character throughout, and while the performances from each of the three leads are solid ones it somehow doesn’t inspire enough sympathy in the audience to make us care how the story concludes. Perhaps this the reason that, when the film tries to generalise the clones’ experience to the entire human race, it falls considerably short of the desired effect. Indeed, toward the end of the film, Kathy’s musings on life as a whole seem awfully contrived, overly contrite and just a tad preachy.
This leaves the audience’s reaction to the ending as one nearing indifference, which is a shame considering the film’s intriguing concept stemming from the obvious prowess of its original source material.