Never Let Me Go

“Keeping yourselves well, keeping yourselves healthy inside is of paramount importance.”

Sure, taking care of yourself is important. You don’t want to kill yourself through excess and neglect, that’s common sense. At the same time, a lot of bad habits are actually enjoyable, at least in the short term. So you’ve got a choice there: indulge now and pay the price later, or be careful about everything in hope that it will allow you to live longer and better. Now, in reality, things are never as clear as this. Some folks smoke, drink, eat crap and do crazy things and get to 90 years old; others never do anything unhealthy but still get sick and pass away at a young age. There’s no logic to life, no certainty, beside the fact that everyone dies at some point.

Set in an alternate history in which scientists have found a way to greatly extend people’s lives by harvesting human clones whose only purpose is to grow up and donate their vital organs, “Never Let Me Go” seems to be an allegory about the elusive nature of life and death. In truth, many folks’ well being is dependent on exploiting and abusing others. To justify this “ethically”, it’s often assumed that the others in question are lesser beings, that they don’t have souls. But how do you quantify that?

At this point, you might think that the movie is a purely philosophical and intellectual piece, but it’s actually anything but. Nor is it the flashy science-fiction flick it could have been – just look at Michael Bay’s “The Island”, which is similarly themed but takes an entirely different approach to the material. As adapted by screenwriter Alex Garland and director Mark Romanek from the Kazuo Ishiguro novel, “Never Let Me Go” actually feels like a romantic melodrama more than anything.

Divided into three sections, the story starts in 1978, in a posh boarding school in the English countryside where children are kept obedient, docile and more or less unaware of what’s expected of them, or at least unwilling to rebel against their fate. We meet Kathy, whose crush on Tommy seems to be mutual until he hooks up with her friend Ruth… Through the remaining sections, which respectively catch up with the characters at 18 then at around 28, as they grow ever closer to the age when they’ll be ready for “completion”, the love triangle between them keeps evolving and it’s quite moving…

But Romanek’s film isn’t exactly a tearjerker either. It’s too understated for that (in a good way), and while Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garlfield and Keira Knightley all deliver note-perfect performances (as do the three kids playing them at a younger age), it always seemed to me like there was something kinda remote about them, which makes sense considering the nature of their characters.

Crafted with an acute attention to detail, both from a storytelling standpoint and in its mise en scène, “Never Let Me Go” is a sad, beautiful, thought-provoking picture that works on many different levels. It’s a bit difficult to put into words why it’s such a fascinating watch exactly… On the surface, there’s the gorgeous cinematography and art direction, then there’s the aforementioned impeccable acting, plus all the complex ramifications of the premise… In any case, you should definitely check it out.