Never Let Me Go
This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 13 March 2011
Kazuo Ishiguro’s 1995 novel plays with notions of freewill – only in his story, the characters don’t seem to have any, and are entirely bound by their fates. Adapted for the screen by Alex Garland (The Beach, 28 Days Later), Never Let Me Go is sensitively directed by Mark Romanek, a music video maker who, given the quality source material and star-studded cast, may feel his own career trajectory has slipped onto a parallel rail.
Ishiguro is best known for stories where love is felt deeply but suffocated by circumstance and repression (as in the Academy Award winning Remains of the Day). Here, Kathy (Carey Mulligan) is at boarding school with friends Ruth (Keira Knightley) and Tommy (The Social Network’s Andrew Garfield), experiencing a seemingly happy childhood, if you don’t notice the distinct lack of family or freedom to leave the school grounds. The revelations unfold in a completely unexpected way, belied by the story’s post-war, middle England setting – but while the audience may be shocked, the characters are by their nature much more accepting.
And herein lies the film’s rub. Mulligan’s warm, focused performance leads us through Kathy’s story, the pain at watching her friends’ developing romance, and the trio’s anxiety about their mortal predicament. The characters, however, don’t wear their hearts on their sleeves. While a necessary, and therefore clever, mechanism, this deprives the audience of the heart the movie is so clearly concerned with.