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One of my volunteers text me over Christmas to tell me her favourite film was on TV, and that I should watch it. I recorded it on TiVo and only got around to watching it last night (it was very strange watching all the Christmas adverts in mid-March!)
Never Let Me Go is a 2010 film based on the book of the same name by Kazuo Ishiguro. I'd seen adverts of Keira Knightly, Carey Mulligan and some gormless looking bloke walking around some picturesque moors and assumed this was a love triangle story, the usual kind of middle of the road will they won't they love story. How wrong I was!
The story picks up at a boarding school, where we meet the main character Kathy H at the age of about 8/9. Things seem fairly normal, Kathy has a best friend called Ruth who likes horses, they go to assembly and sleep in dorm rooms. Kathy watches a boy called Tommy from afar, who seems sweet but is bullied by the other children and prone to fits of rage. She befriends him and sticks up for him against the bullies. However, some things at the school don't seem quite right. The children write poetry and do art work instead of more traditional classes like maths and English. They are checked over by doctors on a regular basis, and the headteacher goes crazy in an assembly when cigarette butts are found on the grounds. The children soon find out that they are clones who have been created to harvest human organs. BOOM. Was not expecting that!
The story follows the three main characters as they laugh, love and fight in a world where their time is running out much sooner than it should. The characters are shown in their late teens and early 20s, they have hope and dreams for the future, all of which are tainted with the fact that they know they will be donating organs soon and will not have long lives.
Carey Mulligan is perfect for the role of Kathy, cute, sweet, understated and wholly believable. A complete star. Knightly does her usual duckface pout for two hours, but carries her character off well. I didn't recognise Andrew Garfield, who has since gone on to play The Amazing Spider Man. He was ok as Tommy, although he looked a bit lost and bewildered for most of the film.
The film was shot beautifully and was very slow, considered and clever. As you would expect this is a very bleak film, however it was also very though provoking and deep. It really made you think about life and love, and the priorities we all have. I wouldn't suggest this film for a casual chill out piece of escapism, this film is bleak, hardhitting and bittersweet. You have to be in the right mood for it or you'd end up very very depressed!
I enjoyed the film as I thought it was an interesting subject and was shot and acted very beautifully. The Young Adult dystopian fiction of young people coming up against their own mortality is not exactly new or different, however I think the time of this film set it apart from other stories. In Never Let Me Go the science behind the cloning/harvesting is discovered in the 1950s, and the story of Kathy and co runs from the 60s to the 80s, which was quite different. I did however feel that there were some parts of the story not covered fully. For example the cloning was not fully explained, and I had questions about the origins of it all. I would imagine more of these questions would be answered in the book, but these kind of things can be hard to get across in a film.
This isn't a film I would watch regularly as it's too depressing, but I really enjoyed this film and the beauty and subject matter were a pleasant surprise to somebody expecting an forgetable romantic drama.
Star - Carey Mulligan & Keira Knightley
Genre - Drama
Run Time - 103minutes
Certificate - 18R
Country - UK
Amazon -£6.39 DVD - (£7.32 Blue ray)
Awards - 6 Wins(22 nominations)
Local library - £2.50 per week
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Never Let Me Go, Alex Garland's intelligent and harrowing screenplay based on the book of the same name by Japanese writer Kazuo Ishiguro, a tale of an alternative utopian Earth where perfect young people are cloned from birth and bought up as compulsory organ donors to their 'originals'. In the book, science makes a breakthrough in the 1950s that allowed human life to be extended past 100-years, the youth providing body parts for the aging population that will need the clones bespoke human parts to achieve the century. They see it as their role in life and so don't question it, appearing not to have any self awareness and so fear of their coming fete of willingly donating until they die.
In reality we are told we are along way off such horror but with the organ donation 'opt out' scheme on the way we are getting a step closer to it. Once we are all on the list, the database will know what bits we have, bits someone important might need. That creates a surplass and so a market, a market where people are willing to pay, and if you know which living donor has the bits you need then things can take a sinister turn. I wonder if Ishiguro had that at the back of his mind when he wrote this book, Japan having the highest number of centurions on the planet. There are 30 million people over 65 in Japan today and they will need new tires, springs and wing mirrors.
Carey Mulligan ... Kathy
Andrew Garfield ... Tommy
Izzy Meikle-Small ... Young Kathy
Charlie Rowe ... Young Tommy
Ella Purnell ... Young Ruth
Keira Knightly ... Ruth
Charlotte Rampling ... Miss Emily
Sally Hawkins ... Miss Lucy
Kate Bowes Renna ... Miss Geraldine
Hannah Sharp ... Amanda
Christina Carrafiell ... Laura
Oliver Parsons ... Arthur
Luke Bryant ... David
On a familiar looking Earth but a very fictional one, 27-year-old Kathy (Carey Mulligan) works in a care facility, narrating the reasons why she is there and how her life got her to the point where she is tending her friends in the clinic, those friends facing voluntary organ donations that will eventually take their lives, or 'complete' as they understand it. We will learn why they are not resistant in any way to that terrible fete as we flash back to the close friend's youth in a boarding school called Hailsham House in the late 1970s, where the kids are bought up away from society to program them on why they will be donors and not live normal, and reactively short, lives, the teachers effectively erasing their soles.
Young Kathy (Izzy Meikle-Small) and school friends Tommy (Charlie Rowe) and Ruth (Ella Purnell) are very close and move serenely through their study in their secluded and sterile world. But the students are encouraged to create artwork and stay healthy, rather than take Math's and English. They are never going to work and so why train for it is the mantra. Then one day a teacher at the school, Miss Lucy (Sally Hawkins), can take no more and reveals their fete in class, sacked the next day. But Ruth, Tommy and Kathy stay steadfast friends throughout and oblivious to what her revelation really means as they have no concept of death.
In the second act the kids are beautiful young adults, living in farm houses on the school estate, preserved specimens ripened for their first transplants, something they are mentally prepared for. They will be expected to have at least three to four transplants before they complete. Tommy (Andrew Garfield) is sleeping with Ruth (Keira Knightley) and Kathy (Carey Mulligan) the gooseberry. Neither of them really knows why they desire each other or what love is and so their friendship immune from jealousy.
In the third act the three are ready for those organs to be taken and a love triangle forming as Kathy has feelings for Tommy. They learn from some young people in the nearby village that if they can persuade the schools headmistress and leader of the foundation, Miss Emily (Charlotte Rampling), that they are indeed in love then they can be exempt from the transplants for a while. Kathy has already earned her redemption from a transplant for the next five years as she is career at the clinics where the organs are removed. But when Tommy loses his second organ she realizes that their only chance to be together is Miss Emily as his third organ removal approaches.
It's depressing stuff folks and the themes of love, friendship and what the sole exactly is making for a tough watch. Seeing someone have a healthy organ removed on the operating theatre and flat line is unsettling stuff, that type of film. It can get very squeamish at times and you will need to turn off or look away at times.
The cast are brilliant, Carey mulligan outstanding at everything she does (apart from marrying that plonker in Mumford & Sons). Garfield, the new Spiderman, of course, is also good and has an ethereal presence on screen. Keira Knightley, alas, has never convinced me she has much to bring to the table and merely a walking talking mannequin. Being pretty and rake thin is enough these days to be famous.
It's nicely directed and rustic looking with themes that make you think. Population control and an aging population will one day be the biggest issue on this planet and every time one of those terminally ill people in wheelchairs are pushed to the High Court to press for a law for the right to die, one day the government will crack and say yes, sneaking in legal euthanasia, what those high power lawyers really want. Getting rid of old folks with dementia will quickly clear the national debt. I also believe I'm right on the 'opt out' that the government wants to make the NHS generate revenue from transplants.
On the whole a well made film with good performances and an interesting script and deceit. This not for the feint hearted though and has a real darkness pressing down on you throughout. The classy cast was expensive and its budget of $15 million returned just $9 million and so a bit of a flop, perhaps just too intellectual and melancholic to find an audience. I think its on BBC2 Iplayer but cant be sure and so one to watch out for if you are a fan of intelligent literature to film transference.
Imdb.com - 7.2/10.0 (76,903 votes)
Metacrtic.com - 69% critic's approval
Rottentomatos.com - 71% critic's approval
Uncut Magazine -'Despite the grinding bleakness, it's a tremendous film'.
Time Out -'Pretty, empty, and immediately forgettable'.
Empire Magazine -'A beautifully realized adaptation of a profoundly affecting novel'.
We Got This Covered -'Emotionally stunted at times, Never Let Me Go gets lost in its own melancholy and fails to live up to its potential'.
Film UK -'Driven by terrific lead performances, this achingly beautiful work challenges audiences emotionally and intellectually'.
`You can see why this tale is a wonder as a book. Simultaneously beautiful and bleak, it transfers quite well onto the screen and tugs at the heartstrings at the same time as making you think about our existence, science and the future.
Kazuo Ishiguro's written works are well praised, and this one is no exception. The issue I sometimes have is when such films are transferred onto the big screen, as they're often manipulated and adapted to fit the circumstances and surroundings. I haven't yet read the book, although it is on the shelf and ready for me to do so, but I thought I would watch the film nonetheless. I did the same with The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, watching the film first, and it no negative impact on me when reading the book, other than my knowledge of the contents and basic plotline.
Here though, Mark Romanek gives us a gentle and character driven film that focuses on the lives of three individuals, at boarding schools together and then entering adulthood together as well. These three friends (Kathy, Tommy and Ruth) are portrayed as outcasts, shunned by their peers yet for no apparent reason. I loved the bleak portrayal of life at school, dull shades and miserable weather used to good measuer, technology and fun kept out of the visuals almost entirely, to show us that their lives were dire and they had to turn to each other for support.
Then, as they grow older and their lives forge down different paths, it becomes more about their interaction with each other, and the tensions that are shown in this respect. Romanek gives it to us hard and straight, no mucking about with caring for our feelings, wanting instead to provide a completely miserable outlook but giving the characters licence to be pleasant and thankful for what they have.
You see, their existence isn't standard like you or I would understand. There is a particular purpose to their lives, and one which you'd have to read or watch to find out, I certainly shan't tell you. It impacts significantly on how we see things, and should really impact on how we perceive life in general. It certainly made me think about life expectancy and how science progresses to better our chances, etc. ; it also relies heavily on the acting skills of the three leads to carry us gently through such bleakness and to keep our interest and motivation to watch maintained.
The acting skills of Keira Knightley are a bit love/hate when it comes to most people. She has that annoying look in most of her roles, but here she manages to portray a beautiful woman who is torn inside, desperately unhappy and reacting by taking what she wants. Knightley plays Ruth excellently, I have to say. Andrew Garfield as Tommy is in such contrast to his recent role as Spiderman, clearly the most disturbed and introverted character, going along with most things and in desperate need of others to help him through life. But the most powerful role is Carey Mulligan as Kathy. Such a forlorn look but such a strong character, strong in the face of everything that happens to her, and portrayed so brilliantly by Mulligan that it's no wonder that she has been on the Oscar radar for a while already even though she's a relatively young actress.
These three are so strong and effective in their roles that the bleak tale doesn't put you off. There's a certain amount of suspense and mystery surrounding what the point of their existence is all about and who they really are, and it's not until right before the end that we find out for sure with some definitive answers, but the film does answer all of the questions it poses, and does so very effectively. Beautiful use of bland and bleak, expert acting and just the right slow pace, Never Let Me Go is a film that will not inspire you or get you motivated or excited, but it is a powerful and emotional drama that's well worth a watch. Strong stuff.
Never Let Me Go (2010)
Director: Mark Romanek
Writers: Kazuo Ishiguro (novel), Alex Garland (screenplay)
Stars: Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield
It is really hard to describe Never Let Me Go without giving too much away but I will give a brief outline.
We meet the protagonists Kathy, Tommy and Ruth as children in the Hailsham boarding school. It becomes apparent that what seems like a safe place concerned with the childrens health and well being is actually hiding a ultimately tragic agenda. The story charts the characters through their lives, loves and as they head towards their destiny.
I watched Never Let Me Go without having read the book nor really knowing anything about the story - as such there were a couple of surprises in store but I also felt that I was a little bit out of the loop. I thought the story whilst an utterly depressing concept was really good. I liked the way you were drawn into the story, lulled into a false sense of security that this was a simple film about a love triangle however I did feel that the twist was revealed a little to soon. I sometimes felt that the film was a little slow in places and ultimately I could not understand why they all stayed - perhaps this is due to their indoctrination as children - I expect it is explained better in the book.
I thought all of the characters were very well written and it would be impossible not to sympathise with the tragic lives of the protagonists. Whilst not a fan of Keira Knightly I have to say I thought she was really good in this and played the jealous Ruth. Andrew Garfield is great as the sensitive loner caught between the two girls. The show was totally stolen however by a brilliant performance by Carey Mulligan, she plays vulnerability with understated perfection. I really felt emotionally involved with each of the tragic characters.
The setting and cinematography is very effective in shifting the atmosphere and tone of the film. At the beginning the film is sunny and bright enhancing the feeling of an idyllic childhood in the country. However after the reveal the darker tone of the story is reflected in grey tones across the screen. It is difficult to maintain a sense of hope in such a foreboding atmosphere and after the reveal there is little to smile about.
Overall I am not sure exactly how I feel about this film. I know I liked it and I thought it was very thought provoking but I am not sure I can say I enjoyed a film that left me feeling so depressed. This is a heart wrenching film that will make you really value every minute you have.
Never Let Me Go is a film adaptation of the hugely successful novel by Kazuo Ishiguro.
~~~THOUGHTS ON PLOT~~~
The film follows closely to the novel in style and structure. Split into several parts, the viewer experiences the life of three friends Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Ruth (Keira Knightley) and Tommy (Andrew Garfield) as they grow up at Hailsham, move to the cottages and their lives beyond.
The movie flows at an extremely slow pace, allowing you to truly absorb the surroundings, objects and artifacts on display. In this way, the film is guides you through an immense amount of visuals, building on atmosphere as well as revealing different personality traits of characters.
For those who have not read the novel, the sequence of events that occur will seem rather truncated and incomplete in a sense that there are obvious segments missing. Whilst this may aid in the idea that Kathy is remembering the past and she herself forgets certain memories, it will undoubtedly confuse and bore those who don't know what gaps are missing.
It is also obvious from very early on that this wasn't going to be a full book adaptation- it wouldn't be possible- and the writers decided it would be best to focus on the complex relationship of the three friends, of the jealousy, love and betrayal that occurs. I personally thought this was the most intriguing part of the book, though the movie does not take this deep enough. The scene in which Ruth reveals to Tommy that Kathy thought his drawings were stupid in the forest found in the book would've been perfect in the movie to drive the tension between the three.
Admirably, the film does manage to present the scenes it captures in an accurate way, mostly. The scene in the car as the trio are driven to see Ruth's "possible" is perhaps one of my favourites. However, one scene which annoys me to death is the iconic scene where Kathy hugs the pillow like her child as the song "Never Let Me Go" is playing (hence the title). The person standing in the doorway watching her was not Ruth and shouldn't be- I hate that they made this change. Another change I did not like was the fact that Tommy bought Kathy the tape during the "sale", when he really should have went shopping with her for the tape on their outing, hence strengthening their love for each other.
The ending for the movie is beautiful though, and really leaves a lasting impression (if you managed to sit through all of it). The message of using the time you have wisely, of hope and innocence really finishes the movie off brilliantly. Much like the novel, the movie leaves you wanting more of a resolve and in yearning for answers understand the tragedy you have just witnessed.
Carey Mulligan- Kathy H
Keira Knightley- Ruth
Andrew Garfield- Tommy
Carey Mulligan is truly wonderful in this movie- she seems to be able to burst into tears just like that- so natural and innocent. She is the perfect fit for the character of Kathy and is underrated for her performance here.
I felt Keira Knightley was not given enough to do, though the dramatic scenes which she was given was done somewhat well. I did think she was far too happy when Kathy and Ruth meet again and they were walking down the hallway- though when the three are on the beach, Keira found her remorseful look and that particular scene I felt she deserves more credit for.
Having now seen several films with Andrew Garfield in, he has this silent charm about him- his slight stutter and reserved appearance really fits the character of Tommy. I'd perhaps like to see him take charge a bit more in future movies, but here he does passive well.
There is an inevitable sense of tragedy and helplessness that the film manages to convey which is perhaps the main point of the movie- this idea of fate and lack of time. I feel the movie could have taken these aspects and instead of making an adaptation, create a far more dynamic and tragic love triangle. The character of Ruth isn't developed as much as the book does and in this way we don't see her being as evil as we know her to be.
In the end, this movie is a series of accurate scenes from the book which is far too slow to be enjoyed as a standalone film for those who haven't read the book; and for those who have, the film is far too incomplete to be a true adaptation of everything Ishiguro set out to create and ultimately fails to captivate as the book does.
Welcome to Hailsham, an idyllic English boarding school in the calm, peaceful countryside. Students of Hailsham are special and the headmistress Miss Emily (Charlotte Rampling) particularly emphasises that the students' health and well-being are of paramount importance. They study, they exercise, they occasionally take their medication and nothing seems to be out of the ordinary for this prestigious looking school. But these young and naïve student have absolutely no idea as to the awful future that awaits their short and tragic lives. Yes, the students of Hailsham are special. They have been made artificially to be used as donors of vital organs for people in the outside world. The students have been closed off in this boarding school for a reason. Essentially the school is a forever functioning genetic factory.
Meet Kathy, Ruth and Tommy; three young "students" of Hailsham who are caught up in this disturbing drama. Kathy likes Tommy. Tommy likes Kathy too. But Ruth intervenes. They're only ten or so, but have already established quite a love triangle. Ruth doesn't seem to be truly in love with Tommy whereas Kathy is - Ruth is simply jealous that her "best friend" has almost found someone special, a mistake that she realises far too late in her short life. When they grow up, Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Ruth (Keira Knightley) and Tommy (Andrew Garfield) still sustain the slightly uncomfortable and awkward relationship. The shy and timid Tommy is wrapped around Ruth, as Kathy can only watch in distance as the pair grows closer together. Listening to them have passionate sex is also something Ruth has to bear and come to terms with.
The fact that these "humans" were created for the purpose of becoming donors is no big mystery. There is absolutely no action/thriller component in the film and director Mark Romanek wisely chooses to steer the film away from any twisty and puzzling tone. No confusing techno-babble trying to explain the scientific aspects of the film here, so if you're expecting some pulse-racing, futuristic sci-fi showdown, you can forget about it. Watch "The Island" instead. There are many hints throughout the film that Hailsham is no ordinary English boarding school and the full explanation of their purpose comes very early on in the film, in a depressing monologue delivered as warmly as possible by Miss Lucy (the always engaging Sally Hawkins). "Never Let Me Go" is interested in the devastating consequences our leading characters face and the lack of any free choice that all human beings should be entitled to. Donating your organs is a fantastically selfless, much needed act of kindness, but being forced into this when you're barely thirty is a scary thought, and quite simply crushes your identity and sense of purpose in life.
So is all hope lost for these three? Perhaps not, for there is a rumour that if a couple is truly in love, they are given what is known as a "deferral," a few years' extension in their short lives so they can spend the time with the ones they love. But the question remains, can these poor creatures love? Or feel at all? For those of us who have been watching and following the characters' lives, we feel pretty certain that even though they have been created artificially, they are still human beings. But how will the outside world feel about some clones walking among them not fulfilling their tasks? Hope runs high, but not everything can resolve itself in a neat and painless way. The most heart-breaking scene in the film, where Rampling delivers some devastating news to Kathy and Tommy, is calmly but effectively portrayed. Rampling is direct and wastes no time telling them the truth that they deserve but not in a cold, distant way - there is quiet sympathy in her voice that arouses the same sort of feeling in the audience. Mulligan and Garfield both have chances to show off here, and they embrace their most dramatic moments, with Garfield's intense meltdown clearly marking the film's most highlighted moment with utmost confidence.
In a film concerned with empathy towards "human beings" Mulligan has the most crucial, central role in becoming a "carer" for the donors. In her 20's (the donors don't live past their 30's so we know that Kathy is almost done with her life) she has the job of sitting by the donors' beds, reading them stories and comforting them as slowly but surely they are torn apart piece by piece. Mulligan doesn't have an obviously showy, dramatic part, but her quieter, more subdued and warm performance is a deeply touching one. Anyone who's seen Mulligan in "An Education" knows just how much potential and talent the young English actress possesses. With "Never Let Me Go" we are firmly reminded once again that the heap of praise she received were all justified and is one of the most promising young actresses around. Knightley, playing the more outgoing, vibrant Ruth is convincing with the actress' usual charming energy and intensity but the true revelation of the film is the new rising star Garfield. Looking worryingly thin and pale, his shy, soft-spoken character almost comes across as a mentally handicapped person and he struggles to fully voice what's going on in his head. His often clueless nature is captured with great precision by the young actor and the fact that he is taking over the "Spider-Man" franchise comes as somewhat good news.
A couple of loose ends and undeveloped ideas make us question the validity of the film's ending. Some of its elements seem too forced for the sake of keeping up with its melancholic, poignant mood. Because the film is spending too much time zooming in on all the characters' expressions, their love triangle, whilst accompanied by some stirring music, it hardly tackles the important issues in the film and the end is quite hastily wrapped up in a clumsy voiceover segment. It leaves the viewers to do a lot of thinking whilst watching, which isn't entirely a bad thing, but it appears some of the film's focus has shifted along the way.
What it means to be a true human being, to feel, to love and how our souls and bodies function are important issues to address in this time of so much technological advancement. And to an extent "Never Let Me Go" gets you started in that thought process. Whether you are moved enough to think further about the subject matters is obviously entirely up to you. But for me, this was an unquestionably depressing and touching film, something the visuals also emphasise. Dull shades of grey and murky green are the standard colours used, very much fitting to the grim, unpleasant and unpredictable Enligsh weather. To put it more simply, after watching this film, a Vodafone advert that quite proudly tells its customers to "donate yourself" didn't look so friendly.