Dec 12, 2011

[Movies] Never Let Me Go (2010)

I first encountered Carey Mulligan in the Doctor Who episode, "Blink" - which remains to be one of my favorite episodes of all time. Besides how cool the episode even among non-Doctor Who fans, the episode was carried amazingly well based on Carey Mulligan's talent as an actress. She brings a certain quiet intensity to almost any role she brings to life and I do enjoy watching her movies, even when she's not in the lead.

But this one did have her more in the spotlight, and we're all the better for it. The movie was certainly a thoughtful one, but I suppose that's what is to be expected given it's origins as a book. It's a bit odd how I had not heard about this movie until the moment my partner finally loaded it into our media player.

While the author was actually raised in Britain for the most part, some aspects of this story would make a bit more sense in a purely Japanese setting or something. Or maybe I've just read too many Haruki Murakami novels or something.

Regardless, the combination of such a strong story with the kind of acting talent that Carey Mulligan brings to the table did make for a very provocative movie experience.

Never Let Me Go is a 2010 drama with a rather dystopian setting based on a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro. The movie was directed by Mark Romanek based on a screenplay by Alex Garland.

In some alternate history version of Earth, advances in medical science have allowed for the human lifespan to be extended past 100 years of age. But naturally such changes in the healthcare aren't without consequences elsewhere in the world. In this case, we meet the narrator, Kathy (Carey Mulligan) as she remembers her school days at Hailsham, a boarding school in the 1970's. The school has the students focus on the arts and other creative ventures as they are encouraged to express themselves more. A young Kathy (Isobel Meikle-Small) clearly has feelings for a boy named Tommy (Charlie Rowe), but before she can make her feelings known her friend Ruth (Ella Purnell) makes her move first.

One the teachers, Miss Lucy (Sally Hawkins) eventually breaks down one day and tells the students the truth - that they have been raised as organ donors will probably not live to see past the age 30 as they provide material for transplants. The next day Miss Lucy is no longer at the school and the students go about the rest of their time as best as they can. The movie follows them as they age and turn into full adults awaiting their first donor requests and ultimately "completion", which is a euphemism for death. And Kathy continues to harbor feelings for Tommy (Andrew Garfield), who remains loyal to Ruth (Keira Knightly).

The premise of this alternate version of our world is disturbing - how people can be raised and essentially farmed for their organs. This goes beyond the usual ethical debates about things like cloning (and we don't even know they are clones mind you), but to the basic rights that should be afforded to any human. And to have these people still raised from children all the way to adulthood without concern for their individual needs, whims and desires. It's a cruel kind of world to be sure, one that is hard to understand with our own sensibilities and cultural context.

The movie raises some interesting questions - if the only way we can cope with increasing demand for organ donors due to longer human lifespans, would we truly go this far? Would we be willing to create an entirely separate class of humanity akin to cattle? You can either think about the rights we afford to livestock (which calls to mind echoes of PETA or something) or at the very least consider the kind of ethical decisions we find ourselves willing to make in exchange for a life. And given how certain technologies can indeed benefit humanity but with certain limiting cost factors, would these technological boons be limited to those with the resources to afford then?

Carey Mulligan
Carey Mulligan (Image via
Carey Mulligan is perfectly cast for this role. The woman wears sorrow around her with a certain degree of class and dignity that I rarely see in other actresses of her generation. Her narration is strongly tinged with emotion at every point of the movie. I mean seriously, the woman knows how to stare in a manner that speaks more than any line of dialogue could.

I was surprised to see Keira Knightly in this movie - then again I just didn't know enough about it prior to watching it I suppose. And while she is often underutilized in many movies, I felt her role is decent but not quite as fleshed out as it could have been. The one who disappointed me more was Andrew Garfield, who felt like so much window dressing in the background of most of the movie. But it's hard to tell if this was more a writing issue in terms of his character or his lack of ability to bring himself forward in contrast to the two ladies.

It's interesting how everyone in the movie just accepts their lot in life and try to make the most of it by working within the system to find a way to live as long a they can. They don't try to focus on trying to find a way to escape the society that has deemed them less than fully human. Instead they try to find a way to defer their inevitable ends - with true love being one of the primary paths to their limited salvation of sorts. But this isn't even about romanticizing the notion of true love conquering all. It's far more complex than that.

Never Let Me Go is a lovely movie, one that gripped me despite it's rather methodical, measured pacing that I can imagine won't work for some audiences expecting something more action-packed like The Island or something. I strongly feel it rates a worth 4.5 sad moments of the characters trying to reinforce the validity of their feelings and their worth as human beings out of a possible 5. Although I may be biased here, so see how this rating fares against your opinions.

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1 comment:

  1. I think I saw this two weeks ago. It really surprised me. I've seen the book in shops but never really got to buying it because I thought it was just another silly romance or some sort of coming of age thing. Then, out of curiosity, I saw the movie and was impressed.

    I didn't expect the twist. This certainly isn't your typical romantic movie. The actors were very good, especially Carey Mulligan, who reminded me a bit of Heath Ledger's wife (forgot her name). And Andrew Garfield was good here, too. A must-see movie.