Fri 8 Oct 2010
People don’t necessarily want to die. I doubt that comment shocks or surprises anyone but as medical science continues to evolve, curing diseases and increasing the quality of life for an increasingly aged populace, questions arise: Where do we draw the line? At what point will medical and ethical boundaries meet? Which argument will win out when that happens?
Such are the underpinnings for “Never Let Me Go”, which is based on Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel of the same name. In this slightly altered reality, humanity (or at least England since we’re never given a global perspective) has decided that they can accept the idea of cloning humans for future organ donation. And yes, this was the same premise for Michael Bay’s awful and bombastic “The Island“; however this is the thinking person’s take on the issues and not such a muddled mess of ‘borrowed’ notions from other films.
Another key difference is that this is the more realistic version of what society would do if such a morally dubious practice was adopted. Rather than build some ultra-sophisticated hotel/prison, a series of schools are set up where clones are given an education and the basic necessities to make their shorter lives seem more humane.
The story centers on three of these children (each played by two sets of actors respective to their ages) – Kathy (Carey Mulligan/Isobel Meikle-Small), Tommy (Andrew Garfield/Charlie Rowe) and Ruth (Keira Knightley/Ella Purnell). The casting department did a phenomenal job of matching up child actors to their adult counterparts (though Tommy isn’t quite as remarkable a resemblance as the other two). Even more impressive when it comes to the girls is that not only do they look so similar, the acting styles match up as well; a credit to both the actresses and the director, Mark Romanek.
And as for acting, everyone involved in the production gives fantastic performances. The child actors carry an impressive emotional load, which is vital as the first third of the film is essentially all theirs. Mulligan shines brightest amongst the adult leads, though she also gets the bulk of the script to work with so it wasn’t really a fair fight. Still, Garfield and Knightley more than hold their own and they are all buoyed by a strong supporting cast which includes Charlotte Rampling and Sally Hawkins.
On the technical side, Romanek didn’t employ the same vibrant color scheme from his gorgeously shot 2002 film, “One Hour Photo”. Here, because the tone of the film is much more subdued, he went with a muted color palette and it compliments the passive characters nicely. The film benefits also from a beautiful score, composed by Rachel Portman. There’s little doubt that both the visual and audio elements were working in tandem, as they should be, and I won’t be surprised to see Portman’s name on numerous short lists for this effort.
When trying to decide if this film is just as much for you as it was for me, I will admit that in conversations with other San Diego based critics, I seem to be in the minority on finding the overall experience enjoyable. While we seemed to agree on the good performances and excellent score, there were some character traits and attitudes that didn’t sit right for some of my brethren. At the heart of this contention is the passivity of the clones, and while I understand the argument, I contend that their upbringing lends that quality to them and am fully satiated the way Romanek and team presented things.
That being said, loyal readers know my propensity for becoming attached to projects where the characters take a turn for the melancholy and I tend not to revel in stories where the ‘happily ever after’ label could be aptly applied. I can only hope that Romanek doesn’t take another 8 years to release a feature film and am eagerly awaiting a second viewing now that this has been officially released in theaters.
Somehow, and not necessarily because of Knightley’s inclusion, I am reminded of 2007′s “Atonement” and that may be one of the better barometers for whether you will find this experience as fulfilling as I did. And while I respect that this may not be such an easy sell because the characters might not react to their situation like you or I would, “Never Let Me Go” manages to blends science fiction, romance and coming-of-age all into one beautiful, albeit passive and subtle film, which is why I’m giving it a 4 out of 5.