A film that speaks to the very nature of humanity in the most deft and delicate ways imaginable.
Truly great art examines something people can identify with. Cinema in particular has the ability to look into the human condition and analyse it in such as way as to open an audiences’ mind in ways they had not thought previously possible. Never Let Me go is just such a film. It subtly instills a sense of childlike nostalgia before posing enough philosophical questions to query our very existence.
Based on Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel we follow Kathy (Mulligan) as she recounts her time at the tranquil English boarding school of Hailsham. We are told that “students of Hailsham are special” but as Kathy, and her two friends Ruth (Knightley) and Tommy (Garfield), begin to realise that being ‘special’ will have repercussions for the rest of their lives. As the mystery unravels so the relationships of the trio begin to strain before both love and death tear them apart before uniting them in a crashing dawn of truth.
To talk too much about the plot of Never Let Me Go would destroy much of the pleasure drawn from watching it. Some have called it science fiction but in truth it is more like alternate universe ethics. Crucially though the film comments and postulates on acres of real world issues. The lies that are fed to the children are one example of how adults have the ability to brainwash someone from an early age. The children of Hailsham are told horror stories of what happened to other students who jumped the walls and in doing so encourage them to see the school as a haven that they are privileged enough to be part of.
Both Alex Garland’s script, who is used to using sci-fi as subtle metaphor with films like Sunshine (2007) and 28 Days Later (2002), and Mark Romanek’s direction is intentionally deceptive. Through Garland’s intelligent use of voice-over we are gradually given clues and nuances as to what is really going on. Romanek, who is all too capable of creating mood after One Hour Photo, allows his camera to linger and his colours to remain grey until the final third when a certain ethereal glow begins to break through the ever-present clouds. Through their methods we are drawn into the lives of these characters, allowed to glimpse at something both alien but more than anything harrowingly real. Indeed there are moments when Never Let Me Go is so hauntingly poignant it feels as if a mirror has been held up to the existential musings of humanity.
This is made all the more possible by the three central performances. Carey Mulligan continues to be an actress with enough gravity to worry the sun. A stereotypical English rose in the vein of Kate Winslet, here she draws us in with a maternal intellect. Like us she seeks to challenge the authorities, ask questions others are afraid to before finally realising the answers are more bleak and harrowing than the previous state of naivety. Indeed it is Andrew Garfield, hot off the back of The Social Network, whose performance reverberates through the soul when he understands the final truth. At one moment anxious, a jittery bird just waiting to take flight, the next exploding in a ball of anger and frustration, Garfield demonstrates why he is more than just a rising talent but a certified star in the making. It is through him that the most heartbreaking moment of the film occurs, and be forewarned it will break even the most resolute heart. On the other end of the spectrum Keira Knightly brings a sense of restraint to her performance as Ruth. Blindly naïve she manages to inject a manipulative quality to the trio, a sense of plotting that becomes more and more tragic as the story unfolds.
It is something of a surprise that Never Let Me Go was not more widely recognised at award season. It has everything you want from a film and more than is possible to say in words. Come the climax you are left with a feeling of tranquility, as if touched by something altogether more heavenly than a film should be able to deliver. There is no need to worry about never letting it go because once you have seen Never Let Me Go it is impossible to escape its hypnotic trance. If you are not ready to address the inevitable mortality that we must all face then Never Let Me Go may open yours eyes in a way that will both haunt and comfort in the most profound manner.