Movie Blog: ‘Never Let Me Go’ OD’s On Anguish

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Never let them show emotion. (credit: Fox Searchlight)

Never let them show emotion. (credit: Fox Searchlight)

Remember the seventies sci-fi/action flick Logan’s Run? A dystopian tale of two attractive twenty-somethings who must escape a futuristic society that cuts down on overpopulation by executing every citizen at age 30? 

Nice, campy fun. You got your nutty 23rd century outfits (via 1975), and decent special effects for the post-2001: A Space Odyssey/pre-Star Wars era. All the elements are there that help prevent the audience from really considering the dire situation of these hunted young adults.

Never Let Me Go serves up a spin on this notion of a well-intentioned yet twisted society, swapping the 2200s for 1980s Britain, sans action and special effects. Instead, the focus is on the terrifying contemplation of the inevitable death of our loved ones, and ultimately ourselves. No lasers, nor sexy one-piece space-skirts. Just anguish. A whole lotta anguish.

The center of the film is a trio of cohorts raised together in a traditional English boarding school in the idyllic countryside — Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth. By age 11, they discover that they are merely organ donors, cloned with the sole purpose of donating until they “complete,” if you catch my drift.

By age 18, they’ve left the boarding school, and instead spend their last years living in cooperative cottages, pairing up as romantic couples as their urges dictate. Kathy (last award season’s darling Carey Mulligan of An Education) has loved Tommy (Andrew Garfield, from the forthcoming The Social Network) for years, but jealous Ruth (Pirates of the Caribbean vet Keira Knightly) has had Tommy’s heart since she purposely stole him from her in childhood. The tension builds on the love triangle as years pass, and the time for organ donation draws near.

A decade passes, the gang separates. Kathy becomes a “carer,” essentially a case-worker who goes from care center to care center looking after this fated generation. In this new role, she stumbles back into the lives of Tommy and Ruth, who have morphed into shells of themselves as the donation process has begun.

Logan’s Run presents the enemy who seeks to destroy the innocent as ever present and menacing. In Never, not only is the entire society complacent and unconcerned with the lot of this trio and their kind, but even the donors themselves are passive and resigned. There are no flying cars or monitor neck-chokers, but instead an overcast and downbeat England of the late 20th century, and bracelets that are used as an almost invisible accessory.

In fact, this adaptation of the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro contains the same atmosphere and downbeat tension of another Ishiguro novel turned film, The Remains of the Day. Everyone plays their role in society, but with an underlying resentment that nearly reaches the surface, but never to the point of revolt.

Presiding over the trio of the UK’s most in-demand young actors is music video legend Mark Romanek. Besides 2002’s stylishly creepy but disappointing One Hour Photo with Robin Williams, Romanek is best known from creating such disparate music video landmarks as Nine Inch Nails’ disturbing “Closer”, and Janet & Michael Jackson’s striking outer space romp “Scream”. The guy certainly has an unmistakable style, which is subdued but clearly present in Never. Set between the late ’70s to the mid ’80s, the look of this film is so rich in authenticity and so sentimentally British, you’d be surprised that Romanek is an American.

Carey Mulligan may have lost top billing to Keira Knightly, but she steals the show as Kathy, the quiet victim of both society and Ruth’s cruelty. And even though the attempt to make Knightly into a plain Jane fails grandly, she is still haunting, particularly as Ruth in the midst of her donation period.

Nevertheless, Never Let Me Go is oversaturated in misery. The heart of the work is rooted in the unbearable truth that we’re all on borrowed time, and the love we give and take is all we really have in the end. Let me emphasize the adjective “unbearable”. This movie is undeniably well-made, and Logan’s Run is pure silliness in comparison. But it’s just too overwhelming for a whole-hearted recommendation.

Stephen Swanson

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