Never Let Me Go
13 February 2011
It would be superfluous of me to ignore comparisons (both direct and tangential) to Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel of the same name, which Mark Romanek’s new film is based on. Yet, it should be noted that this is not a critique of the adaptation, but rather what Never Let Me Go the film could (and definitely should) have been.
This is the story of a love triangle, involving 3 people who are clones harvested for their organs. Their purpose in life is to give up their organs once they reach adulthood. By their 3rd or 4th donation, they “complete”.
Izhiguro’s novel is a marvel of science fiction - carefully and masterfully avoiding cliches, the story is told in a cunningly clever way, in which the rules and laws of this alternate reality are given in small breadcrumbs in a taut narrative. Ishiguro’s language make this post and this writer red-faced with shame.
Romanek’s film covers the majority of the story, keeps the premise, adds a few touches to channel the abstract premise to the viewer (such as embedded tracking devices in the clones’ wrists), but falls short on a variety of ways. The most important of which is that it rushes through the first chapters to reach an emotionally draining third act. The problem is that, this emotional outpouring by the characters (and the story) is based on shaky and weak ground. The premise of the love triangle relies on the events that happened in Hailsham, the boarding school where the 3 main characters attended, and the Cottages (their post-graduation open-prison). Yet, Alex Garland’s script strips away a few of the most important pieces of the story from this era, which renders what comes afterwards hollow. However, it is still a powerful film that will leave a mark on you once it’s over. Unfortunately, credit should go to Izhiguro and not to Romanek or Garland.
Cathy Mulligan (as the narrator Kathy B, through whose perspective we see the story and the world) is amazing. It shows that ((An Education)) (2009) was not a one-off and we have a formidable talent in our hands. Keira Knightley also shines as vindictive and petty Ruth (a role that is far meatier and empathetic in the novel). But the real star is the soon-to-be-stratospheric Andrew Garfield. His Tommy is the emotional heart of the film and he is simply mesmerising. As much as I am happy for him to land the Spider-man role, which will earn him plenty of money and fame, I hope he will continue starring in quality films like this and The Social Network.
Never Let Me Go is beautifully shot - perhaps a little too beautiful. This belies the horror of the story. By skipping the bare bones of how this love triangle started, Garland’s script relies too much on the horrible premise of clones developed as organ donors to save the world of incurable diseases. This information is given straight away at the beginning - so the heartbreaking finale, which leaves your jaws open when you read in the novel, becomes a moot point. The problem is that Garland’s script and Romanek’s direction are too scared to confuse or challenge their viewers. They take a cowardly step by addressing the lowest common denominator instead of relying and trusting their story to deliver the horrible message and the emotional depth it is based on.
Disclaimer - Never Let Me Go is one of the very best books I have ever read. It is considered by many to be one of the best contemporary English-language novels. Unfortunately, it wasn’t even the best film I saw on Saturday.