I walked out of “Never Let Me Go“, looked over to my six friends (safety sometimes comes in numbers) and said: “Who’s ready to give some hugs now? Because I need them”.
In 2005, I did not walk, I ran to the bookstore and bought Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel this movie is based on (William wrote a great review of it, btw-which you can read here-ed) and I loved every dread filled moment of it and was genuinely taken aback by the “big reveal” but I am not going to spend time comparing the book to the movie because I do think the cinematic rehashing of it could stand on it’s own artistic merits.
I will try to not reveal too many plot points in here but I imagine most people already know what the aforementioned reveal is.
Mark Romanek (who, previously, did only one feature length movie, the atmospheric and creepy “One Hour Photo”) returns to a different kind of atmospheric creepiness (this time, with a soul?) in this science fiction nugget actually set in our past (setting the plot in our known past as opposed to our unknown future has always been one of my favorite things about this story, and the reason why I found it so personally affecting-because the surroundings were not sterile unknowns of uncertain future but places you could imagine yourself being it).
The story kicks of at an idyllic English countryside boarding school, Hailsham, where rosy cheeked kids run, paint, play and maybe even love. The operation is presided over by Miss Emily (Charlotte Rampling, perfectly cast, all steely elegance and immaculate cheekbones to go with immaculate sweater sets) and a bevvy of “guardians”.
The children in the school are well taken care of in that disciplined, vaguely privileged British-sort-of-way which, as someone who actually did go to a British boarding school for a hot minute, I can atest is intended to produce you into hard working, morally fiberful adults who will do their work and do it well and contribute to society in the best way their abilities allow them to. (what those abilities are is up to the individual in most circumstances, but not here)
At the center of the story are Kathy, Tommy and Ruth, the smart, creative girl, the shy but tempesteous boy and the pretty one forming the oldest of all love triangles: you know who HE SHOULD end up with, you know who HE WILL get distracted by, and under any other circumstance of a movie, you know who HE WOULD EVENTUALLY end up with, but time, you see, is of very special essence here.
Because, by the time the wonderful child actors (all a revelation, imo) grow up into bee-stung lipped, feral haired Carey Mulligan (who is ON.A.ROLL), Andrew Garfield (gangly and breakable in this movie but also about to be seen in “The Social Network” and as the new Spiderman) and Keira Kneightly (nothing but sharp angles and (misguided) steely determination) their days have been numbered. (it should be noted that the cast, top to bottom, left to right is absolutely top notch and that Alex Garland’s script while giving a little away too soon, does a remarkable job of maintaining the book’s spirit)
Pretty soon, they will get to do what they were born to do, which, in some sick way, could be seen as a noble thing: save lives by sacrificing their own and they will “complete” (not die, no one ever says “die” in this movie because that would imply humanity of those dying) probably before they even leave their twenties.
So-the question is: do you even care what happens to you in your life and what relationships you form if you know they are doomed to be so short lived someone will end up alone and devastated? Or….do you work that much harder since you have nothing to lose to have the most fullfilling emotional experience you possibly can?
And can you even have an emotional experience if, maybe, just maybe, you don’t even have a soul? (of course you have a heart, because a heart can be used to save those lives with souls, you were MADE to have a heart)
The movie, maybe even more succesfully than the book since we are given known, recognizable human faces to associate the strife with, tackles both the most shallow and the most profound issues young people deal with: infatuation vs. true love, freedom of choice, loss of innocence, breaking out of your shell, fighting those emerging urges before giving in to them, love vs. friendship, forgiveness, feeling like you’re forever on the outside looking in…all of these are eternal human topics, fitted in within a context of presumed non-humanity.
The feel of the movie reminded me of (the book moreso than the Sofia Coppola adaptation) of “Virgin Suicides” which I always felt was one of the finest, palpable slices of narrative nostalgia around: you could smell the smells (the salty air at the beach, the warm foulness of a farm, the damp air of 1980s Britain) and feel the prickling of the grass, the rough edges of the woolly sweaters, the cool, moist sand on a beach…it is all very beautifully shot and perfectly paces and eerily scored and very, very, very quiet, so quiet that you do sometimes feel like you are intruding on Carey Mulligan’s Kathy’s most intimate thoughts and moments.
And yes-at the end, you will cry. Mark my words. If you don’t cry-you’re, maybe, well, maybe not human?