10 February 2011


Enough of last week's review of The Fighter was given over to me bitching about how Mark Wahlberg has been overlooked this awards season, which was me placing far too much importance in other people's views on filmmaking excellence. So I'm only going to say it once here and then leave it- Never Let Me Go has been robbed of the awards season kudos it so richly deserves.

Based on Kazuo Ishiguro's novel, Never Let Me Go is a science fiction drama centred in an alternate history where scientific advances in medicine have surpassed all terminal diseases. The price for this is that generation upon generation are essentially groomed to serve a single purpose throughout their entire lifetime. Three young'uns- Kathy, Tommy and Ruth- become unusually close during their time at a special boarding school called Hailsham, and grow up together, on their way to an uncertain future.

Science fiction is the correct term there. Not "sci-fi", which is to science what calling Christmas "Xmas" is to Christians. Sci-fi allows for such woolly movie science as seen in the films of Roland Emmerich, in which Professor Exposito is able to explain how and why the polar ice caps are about to explode and kill everyone. The science at hand here is already a tangible achievement, and Ishiguro's novel, and now Mark Romanek's film version both explore what happens when that science advances so far that the produce become just that- products. And for this amongst other reasons, the film is one that you want to savour, frame by frame, to properly appreciate everything brilliant about it.

One of the clever things we see in Never Let Me Go is that it doesn't actually bring in Professor Exposito to explain through dialogue what's happening to our three heroes, but allows the visuals to speak volumes about the world that the film inhabits. This includes the creepy omnipresence of an ID scanner inside the door of every abode we see them enter or exit, but also the continuous allusions to the day that they will "complete". This in particular feels true to the British setting, utilising the stereotypical repression and politeness of our nationality to convey something that's much nastier than it actually sounds. The sophisticated world building is just visible enough, without overshadowing the more prominent character drama at its heart.

Alex Garland's adaptation of the book provokes a deep pity for Kathy, Tommy and Ruth as much as it invites sympathy for their plight. Their upbringing, ostensibly a happy one, is shadowed by their impending completions. These are products of the world we see in Never Let Me Go, not seen as people but as human storage spaces. We, the audience, are let in on the deep and personal relationship these three characters share, letting us know they're people too, even if nobody else seems to notice. It also sets us up for a fall right along with them.

Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield are at the top of their game as Ruth and Tommy, each perfectly projecting the idea of compromised identity. Knightley's character turns out as a de facto antagonist, but only so far as that her fear of death manifests itself more selfishly than her friends', and Garfield is so good that it's actually a real shame his next role will be as Peter Parker. I'm sure he'll be good, but it's difficult to imagine what he can possibly do with that role that would be as arresting or as moving as the pitch-perfect performance he turns in here.

Carey Mulligan might be less challenged by the comparatively brighter audience in-point embodied by Kathy, but she's still terrific. She's got screen crying down to a fine art- it always seems to come naturally and sudden to her, without any need to gurn to start the tears rolling, in a way that's very convincing. In a much smaller role as a teacher at Hailsham, Sally Hawkins proves to be the most dazzling thing in the film, bar Andrew Garfield. She has only a few scenes, but she exits the film with an indelibly haunting monologue to her class. Hawkins is one of my favourite actresses working today, and she's pure class in an already very classy film.

As much as I'm eager to mark it as a science fiction film, it also does more than enough to earn its tag as a weepy. Bizarrely, some people seem to be calling it an emotionally cold film. The bleakness and difficulty of tone cannot and must not be mistaken for a lack of emotional substance. This film is about the most penetrating and compassionate kind of love, and its characters are as sympathetic as they are pitiable. Mark Romanek sucks you into the film and then shatters your heart into a million pieces. I was never going to hold this up as a Valentine's date movie, but what's the point in conforming when this is by far the least commercial film released this Friday and it's this damn good?

The biggest disappointment relating to the awards bigwigs overlooking Never Let Me Go is that nominating a film like this for awards normally gets audiences interested. Looking at the rest of this week's releases, I will inevitably find myself saddened when next week's box office figures come out and it turns out that more people saw that new Adam Sandler movie than this touching and excellently constructed love story. The cast are fantastic without exception, the direction is sumptuous and the story, though rife with injustice and gloom, is profoundly moving and still fairly accessible. It's a film that deserves more praise than it's getting, so please go and see it.

Never Let Me Go is showing in cinemas nationwide from February 11th.
If you've seen Never Let Me Go, why not share your comments below?

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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