There are many amazing things about Never Let Me Go. Among
them is the fact that when broken into its individual themes, nothing
about it is really new. Off the top of my head, I can recognize parts of
this film from 1984, Moon, Repo! The Genetic Opera, Blade
Runner and Dollhouse. Yet the truly amazing thing is that from all
these familiar parts, Mark Romanek and co. have crafted something pure,
beautiful and entirely unique.
Never Let Me Go takes place in an alternate history in which
human cloning was perfected in the 1950s and immediately used to grow
organ donors. Thus, we have boarding schools such as Hailsham, built to
keep cloned children safe and healthy until they’re old enough to start
making “donations.” This is where we meet Kathy, Tommy and Ruth, three
Hailsham students who befriend each other and eventually make a fragile
love triangle. Several years later, they hear rumors about deferments;
postponed donations for students who can somehow prove that they love
There’s a lot going on in this film. These characters deal with
mortality, repentance, sexuality, who made them, what to do with their
lives and the nature of souls. The narrative is structured in such a way
that all of these existential themes and many more are inextricably
tied to each other. Contemplating the nature of love and how to prove
it, for example, leads to the question of whether or not our
protagonists have souls. Thus, we have an uncommonly potent combination
of quality and quantity. Genius.
Ruth, played by Keira Knightley, is by far the most pessimistic of
the bunch. Everything about her character revolves around spite for how
and why she was created, not to mention her very short life expectancy.
She’s destructive to herself and everyone around her, though it’s hard
not to sympathize because who can blame her?
Tommy, played by Andrew Garfield, is the optimist of the group. He
literally stakes his life on his two friends and his love for them. He
believes in love and art, as well as their abilities to prolong and
enrich his life, if not save it outright. After all, it’s not like he
has anything else.
Kathy, played by Carey Mulligan, is probably the toughest nut to
crack. She’s in the awkward position of third wheel, on the outside of
the Ruth/Tommy relationship. Indeed, it seems like she’s stuck on the
periphery of everything through much of the story. Her fellow donors try
to imitate the television and pretend that they understand the outside
world, but Kathy doesn’t: She’s not willing to fake her way through life
in any way, shape or form. There’s also a scene in which Kathy flips
through a porno mag she found. The movie makes a big deal out of this
scene and rightly so, for my jaw hit the floor when we finally learn why
Kathy was looking at pictures of naked women (I’ll only say that it’s
not because she’s a lesbian. She isn’t). That was one amazing reveal.
Over the course of the movie, it gradually became obvious to me that
Kathy was focused much more on her life than on her death. She’s simply
trying to figure everything out and how to make the best of what she
We follow these characters through their whole lives over the course
of the movie. The entire first act follows Kathy, Tommy and Ruth as kids
(played by Izzy Meikle-Small, Charlie Rowe and Ella Purnell,
respectively) and they’re amazing to watch. Their interactions between
themselves and with other kids are done with great maturity, sincerity
and heart. I’ve never seen anything like it save for Let the Right
One In, and I mean that as very high praise indeed.
There’s an amazing amount of subtlety in this first act. So much of
the information we need about these kids and their lifestyle is told
through implications and emotions. For example, the Hailsham
headmistress makes an announcement early on that three cigarette butts
were found on campus. Were they really left by Hailsham students or was
the headmistress lying so she could reinforce the point that these kids
had to stay in top shape?
There is absolutely no bad or awkward exposition in this movie. When a
teacher finally explains at the end of the first act what will happen
to these kids, it’s not an exposition dump: It’s a last minute call to
attention. She might as well have been screaming “WAKE UP!!!” at
the top of her lungs. The manner of this announcement and its aftermath
are every bit as relevant as the announcement itself.
Visually, the movie is astonishing. Handheld cameras are used
occasionally for added intimacy. Every single frame of this movie is
expertly lit and beautifully shot. Equally beautiful is the score, which
is wonderfully forlorn. There’s a particular four-note theme on the
strings which reminded me strongly of Bear McCreary’s work,
and any music that reminds me of McCreary is doing at least one thing
Every single acting performance is amazing, though I do wish that
Carey Mulligan could take a lighter role someday. The music is amazing,
the visuals are great and the writing is a six-course meal for thought.
If this movie isn’t Mark Romanek’s ticket to the A-list, it oughta be.
I can’t recommend Never Let Me Go enough. This is a
life-affirming movie with brains and heart in abundance. It will stay in
the mind of everyone who sees it, guaranteed.