MacGuffin Film Review – Never Let Me Go

Film Review – Never Let Me Go

Based on a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, directed by Mark Romanek, the new film Never Let Me Go is a strange and tightly drawn character study about Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy, three kids who start out in the same boarding school in the English countryside. Their destinies are spelled out for them from birth.  A love triangle develops as children. Kathy fancies Tommy, so the calculating Ruth moves in on Tommy mainly because her friend wants him.  The title of the film comes from a smoky, old fashioned song from a fictional recording star that young Kathy listens to repeatedly while imagining her unfulfilled romance with Tommy.  They all come of age emotionally and physically together.  What it all means to them is integral to their story.

It is difficult to talk too much more of the plot. Giving away the central premise of the film would rob it of some of it’s power. Don’t expect a M. Night Shyamalan type of twist, nothing that obvious is going on here.  But what these characters deal with throughout their lives does make the audience ponder ethical issues and extrapolate a world full of what-ifs. Though the movies are very different, thematically Never Let Me Go is reminiscent of Blade Runner in exploring how much time we all have and what makes life have meaning.

The entire cast movingly inhabits their characters. Carey Mulligan as Kathy grounds the story. She performs the most difficult task an actor faces, being a good listener. Keira Knightly plays Ruth as a girl who seems to be copying behavior she observes. Ruth is confused on how she should actually feel. So instead of being real, she tries to display emotions and manipulate others just to see where she fits in socially. Andrew Garfield as Tommy is the soul of this trio. He seems a possible Best Supporting Actor Nominee come Oscar time. His earnestness about looking at life feels genuine and naive. A shout out also goes to Charlotte Rampling as the headmistress of their boarding school. Behind her stern facade is revealed to be strong amount of empathy for her young charges, even if she is ultimately powerless to change anything.

Previously, Mark Romanek directed One Hour Photo, the wonderfully claustrophobic movie starring Robin Williams. As in that film, Never Let Me Go is about very reserved characters. In both movies, you had a character that tried to act outwardly as a empathic human being. In that movie it was Robin Williams, in this one it is Keira Knightly. Both characters end up showing how hollow their inner life is before they seek some sort of redemption.  They both act as they think others expect of them, but inside they feel alienated.

If there are any criticisms to be had here, it may be that you want to see more of the world in which they live. The movie focuses on just this little triangle. It is both moving and unique to tell the story this way, yet it’s possible that the audience would leave with so many unanswered questions that it ends up distracting from the character study on display. For a similar example, think of everyone’s frustration over how Lost ended. On the one hand, there were some very emotional endings for characters we know and love. However, there is so much involved with the mechanics of the plot that were left dangling that many people are irritated by it. It’s possible that this movie will elicit a similar reaction.

All that aside, this is an engaging, deliberately paced, and terrifically acted story. This is well worth your time and attention.

Final Grade: B+

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