D: Mark Romanek. DP: Adam Kimmel. W: Alex Garland. Starring: Carey Mulligan/Kiera Knightley/Andrew Garfield/Charlotte Rampling/Sally Hawkins/Izzy Meikle-Small/Ella Purnell/Charlie Rowe. (NOTE: Based on the 2005 novel of the same name by Kazuo Ishiguro.)
Sometimes cinematic stories can truly surprise you and inspire you. For me, oftentimes these quieter films, these smaller pockets of life, reveal and disturb much larger things than their budget might suggest.
Never Let Me Go does just that. Its simple story and depth of scope reverberate throughout the entire film. A film that centers on the young Kathy H. played by delightful Brit Carey Mulligan who, besides sporting an unfortunate hair piece throughout some sequences, manages to carry the film and its weight on her young shoulders. Just as in Ishiguro’s novel, her Kathy H. seems to know far more than she tells and holds a resoluteness to her that leads her down her path.
Her path in the story begins with her unpacking her past and her childhood at a school for ‘gifted’ children. Unlike the novel, the film reveals the childrens’ purpose from the very beginning. Yet although audiences may know that the children are clones, whose organs are to be ‘donated’ when they become adults. This purpose is slowly peeled like an onion throughout Never Let Me Go, yet its science fiction nature never being explored or pushed to the center of the film. Rather the film grounds itself with Mulligan, her life, her loss and the meaning of it all.
Mulligan is supported by Kiera Knightley who plays Ruth, her childhood friend, a friendship that is unfortunately only really developed well in the novel. Andrew Garland’s Tommy rounds out their group and is much more memorable than Knightley as he is able to capture Tommy’s spirit and limited worldly scope. And although in very few scenes both Charlotte Rampling and Sally Hawkins give the right amount of depth to the caretakers of the children and the moral dilemma they face.
However, what truly shines is the original score by Rachel Portman and the sheen and color of the frame that Adam Kimmel was able to capture. Not only does it tonally match the novel, but it surpasses the narrative in texture. Because although the screenplay is faithful it chooses specific moments to emphasize that are not as well balanced with the rest of the script.
On a more specific note I would like to add some perspective into the relationship between Garland’s screenplay and Ishiguro’s novel. At the screening I attended both writers participated in a Q & A following the film. Their discussions shed light on the nature of their professional relationship, where Ishiguro is the clear mentor yet participant in dialoging about Garland’s career. Both writers are based in London and although Garland is fifteen or so years younger than Ishiguro they have clearly developed a strong interplay between their writing processes. I offer this into the review as a way to shed some light on the clear success of Garland’s screenplay to convey the mood and essence of Ishiguro’s novel. Garland saw an early draft of Never Let Me Go, communicated his interest to Ishiguro and it has been in his hands as a screenwriter ever since. But the relationship between the two writers clearly influenced and benefited Garland’s script and allowed a seamlessness to be achieved from one form to the other.
But see the film and let yourself see what it stirs up in you. Better yet, read the book and compare as neither one will truly answer any of your questions on the shortness of life and yes, the meaning of it all.