Never Let Me Go (2010) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
3Feb/110

Never Let Me Go (2010)

ANDREW LIKEIt's nice to have a sense of purpose in life.  One of the downsides of our increasingly secularized world is that less people can point to something that provides the comfort that they were put here for a reasons.  We can provide that comfort without religion but it's harder in many ways.  The characters in Never Let Me Go never have the comfort of religion to provide them that purpose and instead and born and raised with the single idea that they exist to help someone else.  They have a comfort that I envied at times, but it all came at a terrible price.

Now it is time to tread carefully and offer up this disclaimer.  If you have any interest at all in seeing Never Let Me Go leave this review with the assurance that it is a beautiful and painful reflection of mortality and purpose.  But since many people won't heed that advice and may tread forward I will be cautious tip-toeing around the plot because that's part of the key to the films success.  The less you know about the movie going in, the better.

Never Let Me Go is adapted from the novel of the same name by British-Japanese author Kazuo Ishiguro.  The film takes place over the course of several years observing the lives of three friends in the Hailsham boarding school in Britain.  The children are Kathy, Tommy and Ruth and as children they are played by Isobel Meikle-Small, Charlie Rowe,  and Ella Purnell.  The adult Kathy doubles as our narrator and has been long in love with Tommy but Ruth, who teased him as a child, decided to be more bold than Kathy and snatched his affection away as a child.

Kathy, Tommy and Ruth in happier times.

They all maintain a tenuous friendship and continue life along at the school.  It seems pristine and preparing the children for long and noble lives but the adults treat them with a strange mix of aloofness and curiosity.  The arrival of Miss Lucy (the wonderful Sally Hawkins) signals the beginning of the end for both the perfect world of the school and the adult aloofness.  She gradually begins to feel sorry for the children because of information that she has about their fate.  In an initially confusing, then tragic, and ultimately cruel scene she tells the children that their lives will never be their own and that each of them does have a special destiny.  But that destiny does not involve being doctors or lawyers, rather that they are here to help others.

The nature of that help I must keep quiet for the moment but it does lead the children to believe that there are ways around the boundaries set up for their lives.  They grow up sheltered from the outside world and now as adults (played by Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, and Keira Knightley) they try to live their lives as best they can before each of them are called upon to fulfill their special duty.  Kathy holds out hope that she'll be able to wrestle Tommy away in the end and Ruth remains terrified of this for many years.

Now that I've been sufficiently vague about the outlines of Never Let Me go let's talk about how damn wonderful the acting is.  In addition to Sally Hawkins, who I've never seen as anything short of radiant in a role, there's also the mysterious headmaster played by Charlotte Rampling (and if you're looking for someone to play mysterious and aloof you won't do much better).  But the central performances by each of the three children and their adult counterparts are absolutely magnetic.

Each of them seems to have to be working with some sort of mental quirk or deficiency that the other two lack.  What results are three people that have an idea of how to connect with others but still don't know exactly how to pull it off.  Of the three, I found Andrew Garfield's performance as Tommy to be the most affecting.  He's mostly lived his life as a harmless and passive man with a simple mind who just accepts his lot in life.  Garfield treats Tommy as a simpleminded realist with a hint of an idealistic spark buried in his soul and slight nervous mannerisms.  It makes his eventual breakdown that much more painful because it feels like it's coming from a place that was once pure.

It seems like all anyone is doing is moving toward someone else's bright light. It's noble, but it's sad.

The other two performances by Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley are similarly excellent and they both get a central moment to show what they're capable of.  Mulligan in particular may be the best working actress on film right now and I've only seen her in three movies.  She's so effortlessly honest with her pain and hope that it's difficult to watch.  Knightly, who I think is underrated, ends up the most tragic and we have her portrayal of Ruth's strength to partly thank for that.

The look of the film is particularly eerie and beautiful.  There's an otherworldliness about the boarding school that seems to take it outside of time.  This extends to their eventual forays into the outside world where the stone buildings seem to have grown together in a style that is altogether cold and modern but organically intertwined.  It's all photographed through a dreamy haze that's almost as idealistic as the characters, drifting and floating along with them to their overall purpose.

My issues with the film are very minor but they're potent.  Unfortunately, the children's purpose in life is spelled out a bit too plainly too early in the film which puts a slight shroud of idiocy on some of their actions.  It seems like they're never acting for their own well being and deliberately so at times.  The other issue is that key information about how and why their lives are constructed like this is kept off-screen.  It's only hinted at in vague terms and I was intensely grateful for a a gentle explanation by Rampling's headmaster toward the end of the film.  That key piece of information could have come later and some other details about the world filtered in earlier.

Thank you for the one's who stay behind to pick us up and keep things going.  The miracle of life is sustained by itself in an altogether painful and beautiful way.  This is a film that understands that all too well and has a glimpse into mortality that is in many ways the opposite of last week's Enter The Void.  We are here to go but so lucky that there are many willing to comfort us along the way.

Never Let Me Go (2010)
Directed by Mark Romanek.
Screenplay by Alex Garland.
Starring Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, and Andrew Garfield.

Posted by Andrew

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