Never Let Me Go

Mark Romanek’s beautifully realised adaptation of the 2005 novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go is a gloomy romance set in a parallel universe, familiar to us but subtly different.

Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield star as Kathy, Ruth and Tommy: twentysomethings who have grown up in 1970s Britain in Hailsham, a peculiar elite boarding school hidden behind high walls in the countryside. The headmistress (Charlotte Rampling) tells her pupils they are “special” and insists on a long list of draconian rules, including dire warnings about what will happen if they leave the school grounds. Hailsham might seem privileged but is a contained world, hermetically sealed from the outside. Then a new teacher (Sally Hawkins) arrives and makes a startling revelation to the children about who they are and why they’re there. We jump ahead in time to 1985, where the three teenagers are now living as part of a group on a remote farm, free to wander the countryside but living under curfew. Another jump in time brings us to 1994, and the old friends and lovers are reunited to deal with the ramifications of their sinister past.

And that’s about all I can say about the plot. Rather than give away the ending, revealing much more about the particulars of NLMG might ruin the beginning; this is one of those films where the less you know going in, the more rewarding the experience is likely to be. In attempting to replicate the spare, thoughtful prose of the novel, Romanek’s film emphasises mood and atmosphere over rigid explanations. The world in which these characters live and breathe remains almost unexplored, the bureaucracy that governs their lives is unexplained and the true horror of their situation is only alluded to. At first, this blank slate is disconcerting, mirroring the cloistered confusion the characters feel, but Alex Garland’s screenplay sticks closely to the mood and spirit of Ishiguro’s novel, slowly drip-feeding information to the audience. This reluctance to explain the real nature of NLMG’s parallel world might explain the film’s sense of restraint and resignation. As the reality of their situation dawns on the characters, they look among themselves for answers, bringing only more confusion.

The shy love triangle that forms the spine of the story offers a different dramatic reward to seeing a wrong righted and a villain vanquished. NLMG is too subtle for all that obvious noise and fuss, perhaps too subtle for its own good. The circumstances become more compelling than the drama, the mystery more intriguing than the characters trying to figure it out, the science more interesting than the fiction, if you follow me.

None of which should be taken as a reason not to see the film, which evolves through the fog of parable and suggestion into an achingly sad story of futility, albeit one told at a polite remove. The performances from the three main players are exceptional, Mulligan in particular gracefully capturing the ethereal nature of her character, who narrates the story. Her gently lulling voice calmly describes her struggle to make sense of her life with an uncanny combination of seemliness, rage and grief. Knightly and Garfield are likewise superb, investing their characters with a sweet innocence that develops into a touching empathy. Later, Domhnall Gleeson and Andrea Riseborough play a devoted Irish couple, graduates of a school similar to Hailsham, who want to escape their programmed lives. It is also worth noting the meticulous care taken in selecting the children who play the younger versions of the characters. All three bear striking resemblances to their older counterparts, adding another layer of the uncanny to what is a strange, shivery film.

1 comment:

Edward said...

It's a pity their was no way of these 3 people to escape from this parallel world. In our galactic universe Earth, our society in the 31st century does not destroy non terran people. Our 31st century technology enables us to teleport people from one parallel universe to another.