Thursday, January 06, 2011

Never Let Me Go to Hailsham

Never Let Me Go

There are times when we all question our purpose in life. Whether it is when we are swamped with work; having issues with a relationship; or merely feeling a case of the blues on a given day. Despite this, the fact that we have the option to change our path always offers up a glimmer of hope at our darkest points. Yet, what if our lives were already mapped out for us from birth? Instead of having dreams of being a doctor, lawyer, engineer, writer, etc; how would you feel if you found out that your sole purpose in life is to sacrifice yourself for the greater good of mankind?

This is the dilemma that the characters in director Mark Romanek’s film, Never Let Me Go, must face. Based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, the film follows three childhood friends, Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Tommy (Andrew Garfield), and Ruth (Keira Knightly), from their days in an English boarding school, Hailsham. While at school they follow the strict set of rules that their headmistress, Miss Emily (Charlotte Rampling), has outlined for them. Their harmonious way of life starts to show cracks when a new teacher, Miss Lucy (Sally Hawkins), reveals a secret about the school that will greatly impact the students.

Never Let Me Go was a film that did not impress me at first but, ultimately, I am glad I stuck with it. The slow pacing and seemingly typical love triangle had me wondering about all the positive reviews I had read. Fortunately the intricate and subtle layers of the film started to reveal itself and I became completely enthralled. Part of the lure of the film is that Romanek never opts for the big flashy scenes. Instead he draws out the sorrow and allows his actors to really revel in their character’s situations. Never Let Me Go offers many deep questions such as what is the value of a life? Do we have souls? And how do we assess who deserves to live and who deserves to die?

The three leads do a great job of showing the complexities of having hope in a hopeless situation. Carey Mulligan is really developing into quite a wonderful actress. She is slowly living up to the hype that arose after the release of An Education. Mulligan not only sold the bittersweet love story with Tommy; but she also, in her role as caregiver, showed how easily one can be desensitized to death. She questions if there is any real difference between those who are dying and the people they are saving.

One of the reasons that Mulligan is so effective in her role is the natural chemistry she has with both Keira Knightly and Andrew Garfield. Knightly shines as the vindictive Ruth, who may not be as strong as she seems. Knightly could have made Ruth an unlikeable character, but opts to make her far more rounded than you initially expect. Garfield on the other hand does of good job of portraying the fragile nature of Tommy without making him annoying. Even when the adult version of Tommy finally realizes his fate, it is his restraint and a somber tone, after a brief outburst, that speak volumes.

Never Let Me Go is a film that is far deeper, and frankly far better, than I had initially anticipated. It is subtle and powerful without ever ignoring the greater questions. This is a film that deserves to be both seen and discussed, as it will provide interesting debate.


  1. For me its technicalities are flawless, but I can't appreciate it because I can't discern that beating heart underneath it. Much of that has to do with the extremely tawdry way in which Ruth is discared (kudos to Knightley, though, who I think gives the best performance despite this). There are some issues that seem like they'll be raised, but ultimately aren't which is a disappointment I noted in my review - still, it's a fairly good effort.

  2. @Andrew – Just read your review of the film. It’s funny that the second half left a bad taste in your mouth, while I found it to be the best half of the film. I can see your point in regards to Ruth being discarded, but I felt it was necessary for the love arc to be complete (by typical movie standards). The trio could not exist in its current form for much longer. Especially since the majority of the second half is Kathy’s story. By having her be a caregiver she gets a perspective of the whole process far greater than Ruth or Tommy could ever imagine. Despite being friends, Ruth is still a reminder of the wasted, and emotionally painful, years of her life.

  3. It's still a film that prompts discussion, and a C+/B- is a fairly good grade for me. I was really hoping for MORE than a typical love story. I haven't read the novel, so maybe that's how it really is but the film is overflowing with so much untapped potential - the first half was like this great pilot for a topnotch TV series.

    What I'll take it away from it most though (other than Sally Hawkins' kick-ass cameo of sorts) is the chemistry of the three leads. I'd love to see them in something else together. (I find it fairly amusing that Keira only took the role because Carey suggested the idea.)

  4. @Andrew-I had no idea Mulligan was the reason Knightly did the film. Funny how there are so many ways for a film to come together.

    I hear you on Hawkins fantastic cameo. I still believe Sally Hawkins is going to breakout big in the next few years. She has the talent and the appeal to woo mainstream audiences like Bullock and Witherspoon do.


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