Verdict: See it
Never Let Me Go is a dystopian alternate history drama set in a Britain where cloned children are born and bred to be harvested for their organs. The film, based on a novel of the same name by Kazuo Ishiguro, centers on three children in a slightly off-kilter boarding school (think Hogwarts meets The Village) who develop a love triangle as they slowly discover their true identities and come to terms with their truncated lives.
The movie is nothing short of gorgeous, a palette of heartbroken beiges and muted blues that contributes as much to character development as the actors themselves. All of the actors draw a traumatizing poignancy from their characters. Andrew Garfield is a rising star (you saw him last in another Best Picture contender, The Social Network), but I thought the child actress Izzy Meikle-Small kind of stole the show. Finally, this has been a great year for film scores, and Never Let Me Go‘s is one I’ll definitely be picking up.
I’ve been looking at some of the reviews and comments, and they seem to fall into a few camps: they hoped for more sci-fi; didn’t feel a connection to the characters; or loved it. For the first camp, the point of this movie was never even 1% sci-fi, “horror” or the like, and it’s silly to think so. The Projo review titled “Scary science-fiction you will remember” only creates false expectations. And while the coyness with which the plot is revealed in the first act was rather annoying, I rather appreciated this refusal to beat one over the head with dystopian xenophobia, unlike Brave New World, for instance.
As for a connection with the characters, it happens or it doesn’t – either way, it tells something about your humanity. If you don’t connect with these characters, then you feel more human, because you affirm your status as better than these cloned people. If you do connect with these characters, you feel more human, because you realize your mortality to be equal with these cloned people. Personally, I felt equal. Never Let Me Go subtly illustrates that a life of 30 years can be just as solitary, poor, brutish, nasty, and short as a life of 100. The time difference is arbitrary. Yet, no matter how many times someone with kind eyes strains to remind us of life’s bittersweet brevity, we continue to delude ourselves into thinking we are the ones who will break the trend.
There is a powerful scene early in the film where a renegade teacher defiantly informs a silent classroom of their bleak fate as organ donors. The message goes over the kids’ heads. That’s us.