Never Let Me Go

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Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go

Matinee with Snacks

Based on the quiet and elegant book by Kazuo Ishiguro (he also wrote Remains of the Day), Never Let Me Go is a wonderful adaptation. Not only does director Mark Romanek (most notably One Hour Photo) capture the tone and sense of mystery of the novel, but director of photography Adam Kimmel gives the alternate world a grounded and even quaint feel, which belies the cold ethical questions at hand. It’s foggy and cold, even on sunny green days, a world whose back is turned (not from scorn, from discomfort) on this anachronistic institution. If you go in ignorant of the real premise, you may still feel like something is off about this small world. Halisham is a boarding school in the 1978 British countryside. The drab grey clothes and the rigorous yet permissive environment all feel foreign and false. Screenwriter Alex Garland (notably Sunshine and 28 Days Later) feeds out what you need to know with grace; by the time you’re watching what in lesser hands could have been The Island or Dollhouse, you’re hooked on the characters.


Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, and Keira Knightley have child counterparts played respectively by Izzy Meikle-Small, Charlie Rowe, and Ella Purnell, all marvelous bits of casting. The three young actors, as always, have to do so much of the heavy lifting to make us care about the older characters, and these three have a lot of heart. Meikle-Small in particular is a perfect young Mulligan, which is fortunate since they have the lion’s share of the emotional impact of the film on their shoulders. Knightley puts her unique brand of charm to good use here; The Social Network‘s Garfield bumbles through his part with an amiable (and purposeful) detachment from depth until it’s called upon, and then he rises up to meet Mulligan’s retreating constancy.

The story is bleak, sad, sweet, and provocative. At no point does it lose its way and start to explore the sociopolitical complexities or meaning, or get bogged down in technological concerns. ¬†Instead, the film is content with navigating the experiences, hearts, and minds of these three young people. What is is, and these people live to further society from this point forward. Never Let Me Go is first and foremost about love, identity, and the capacities of the human soul. The rest is just a costume of medical science fiction to create an agar in which love might bloom. I am very sorry I missed this in the theaters but grateful that it washed up on my doorstep. My book group read it a few years ago with mixed results, but I like Ishiguro’s sparse, no-nonsense way of approaching loneliness and sadness, and the utilitarian place we have in the world. I hope you will appreciate this adaptation.

MPAA Rating: R for some sexuality and nudity
Release date: 11/25/10
Time in minutes: 103
Director: Mark Romanek
Studio: Fox Searchlight