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Movies Review

Never Let Me Go

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Never Let Me Go
Released on Thursday, Jan 21 2010

Sigh... Love is wonderful and painful and in the end, we all die. So there. Never Let Me Go, based on Kazuo Ishiguro's novel, kicks off the 2010 London Film Festival with a steel toecap to the gut. It's the frankly petulant story of three young people, played by Keira Knightley and rising stars Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield (the next Spider-Man) who will never grow old because they are artificially bred with the sole purpose of donating all their organs. It's a subtly altered reality they languish in; one that relies on the probability that humankind is completely devoid of humanity.

What Ishiguro does so well is to convey those feelings which are often left unspoken in polite society. His nuanced storytelling is not a natural fit for the big screen, though the Hopkins-Thompson classic Remains Of The Day (1993) proves that it can work brilliantly. Here, director Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo) does an efficient job of bringing tensions to the surface as he follows the three from childhood at a sterile boarding school (essentially, an industrial-sized icepack) into their sexual maturity. Kathy (Mulligan) is pure empathy, barely able to conceal her love for Tommy (Garfield), an awkward loner who is easily seduced by the wily Ruth (Knightley).

The dour premise also offers a showcase for Great British acting, a master-class in keeping a stiff upper lip as the trio wait for what is politely called "completion". Kathy postpones her donation by working as a carer for other donors and spends the rest of her time swapping wistful gazes with Tommy who is, apparently, a gutless wonder (even before they take the scalpel to him). Ruth is all too aware of this, trying to mask the bitterness of knowing that her prowess in the bedroom will only hold the boy's attention for so long. Thankfully, she has hidden depths to redeem her, bringing hope to Kathy and Tommy for a better future. Any future.

No, this isn't the bit where the kids hatch the plot for a great escape. That would be too brash, too Hollywood for this sort of film, where words are softly spoken and images are photographed in beautiful but bleak grey tones and softly lit, polished to a high but still subdued gleam. That spectre of doom hangs over the story, relentless, even as Kathy and Tommy think they've figured out a way to prolong their lives. Their optimism is touching only in a minor way, outweighed by all that glossy miserablism, because it is half-hearted. They seem to know their dream is pointless even before they approach the woman rumoured to have the power of "deferral".

The rumour goes that donors can buy time if they can prove they are in love. And therein lies the key flaw of this adaptation. Kathy and Tommy make a cosy couple, but they don't appear to fight hard enough for each other, so the power of what they feel is diminished. Tommy's big gesture is drawing a few pictures to verify the presence of a soul (we're to assume they are clones though it's never said out loud). It's all so lamely poetic. Characters aren't so much forced into submission as invited to come along without any fuss, dear. And they always do. Such grand acquiescence might be plausible within a real cultural context (as in Remains Of The Day), but this world feels as authentic as Hogwarts. The film only acts as a reminder that time is too precious to waste.


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