In the 1960’s scientists discovered that life could be prolonged, through advanced surgical procedures it was now possible that everyone stood a chance of living to be 100. While not true, this is the basis for upcoming release Never Let Me Go. If you have happened to stumble upon the movie trailer you may well be under what appears to be a common misconception, that the story covers a strange love triangle in a past time. What you get however is one of the darkest offerings from British mainstream cinema for a few years; deeply disturbing, depressing, and bleak the movie is however also one of the most moving and memorable films of the new millennium.
Beginning in 1975 we follow the adventures of boarding school kids Kathy, Ruth and Tommy. You realise very quickly that this is not the 1975 that those of us old enough to remember were living in. After the discovery of a way to prolong life, it seems the government has devised a way of shortening the lives of others. The school in question is simply growing human organs, that when they reach a certain age will be worked upon to provide a series of organs for one or possibly multiple recipients in the outside world. You quickly bond with the characters which makes it all the more heartbreaking, well at least two of them anyway. On top of the obviously dark future for our trio, you also have the complication of a love triangle; with one, the one who truly deserves love left on the outside.
Based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, the movie is given to the capable hands of Alex Garland (The Beach) to develop the screenplay. The film does most certainly bear all of his traditional hallmarks, and it’s a comfortable home for Garland to create something we are all very familiar with, with something a little bit alien.
The cast is a clever little bunch of performers Carey Mulligan (Doctor Who, Bleak House), Andrew Garfield (The Social Network and the new Spiderman), Keira Knightley (The Jacket, Bend It Like Beckham), Charlotte Rampling (The Night Porter), but its newcomer Izzy Meikle-Small who absolutely steals the movie as the young version of Mulligan’s character Kathy, the two so much alike you would think that the film was literally made over a ten year period. While Mulligan and Garfield will pull at your heartstrings, Knightley sadly has you reaching for the vomit bag, continuously doing that thing she does with her teeth like its going out of style, this being said in some ways her character is the most tragic of the movie; if you’ll cry as the movie plays out its traumatic story, its with the character of Ruth that you’ll shed a tear. Knightley recently claimed that she only took the role because it would giver her the opportunity to work with one of her best friends (Mulligan), but I can imagine that as actress this is a difficult sacrifice to make simply to work with a friend, and while Knightley does of course add yet another string to her bow appearing in her darkest movie since The Jacket, she is certainly not the reason for the movies success.
Much criticism has been made about the movies speed, and I think the problem being is that it feels very “Merchant Ivory” yet has a story line that will actually appeal more to horror movie lovers, who sad to say would ideally prefer a little more haste. If however your one of those people that can settle back and watch just about any movie, then this will be right up your alley. The speed is just perfect for the story, if it were raised a level then the love you have for the characters would undoubtedly be lost.
You have to love the Chinese whispers that fill the movie, things that have happened to characters never seen seem to fill the movie. Like all Chinese whispers there may be an element of truth, but most of it has been lost down the passage of time.
The movie has some flaws, something you cannot escape from, most notably that it never, ever gets anywhere close to the obvious which screams out at you from the minute you understand the characters purpose. Secondly, that certain aspects of the movie are never quite explained, the key one I felt was “are the characters clones?” which it hints its way towards, but never really reveals. There is also the small matter of fate, the fate of a character earlier on in the movie, when remembering this character Tommy (Garfield) says “We all know what happened to her” glad you do, because the audience is completely in the dark.
You might think I’ve said to much, but really I’ve not scratched the surface, in order for this movie to get the full attention it deserves you need to know about the main plotline, its explained early enough in the movie. The danger of Never Let Me Go is that people will see it not really knowing what they are going to see, and with a cast that includes Mulligan and Knightley this really is a movie far distant to the majority expectation.
In cinematic history, this movie really is one of the darkest stories ever told, and this fills me with so much hope, because movies like this show us that Freddy, Jason and Michael are just kittens compared to the darkness of the human soul when out to secure the most precious of things… Life!
Never Let Me Go opens in UK cinemas on February 11th.