Never Let Me Go is one of those delightfully strange films, a film that defies genre, casts off presuppositions and takes a premise that practically demands one route and takes it off into another direction altogether. This could be, in large part, due to the source novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, a novel I have not yet read. In any case, it remains a delightful surprise.
Three children, Kathy, Tommy and Ruth, grow up in an English boarding school where everything is sunshine, peaches and rainbows. While the kids have their struggles, they live a mostly carefree and joyous existence. Well, that is until they discover the true nature of the school. In a dark sci-fi twist, the story takes an unexpected turn which launches the characters into adult lives that aren’t quite their own.
Tommy (Andrew Garfield) and Ruth (Keira Knightley) become a couple while Kathy (Carey Mulligan) pretends to ignore their displays of affection. That’s right, people, it’s a love triangle. It’s made awkwardly delightful here, in part because these characters have such a rich history with each other and in part due to the nature of their upbringing. It’s, at times, disturbing and grotesque and at other times sweet and naïve.
This is because the characters are in many ways still children, still unadjusted to social life, still lost living life as if they’re still in that boarding school. But they aren’t, and they know the truth now, the truth that lurks in every scene and fills the lives of all three with an impending sense of foreboding and doom at every moment.
Without trying to give away the actual twist, their faced with an abnormal problem rooted in something every human struggles with at some point in their lifetime. It makes the characters instantly relatable and empathetic as well as tragic due to their strange circumstances. It’s perhaps the best movie of the year that speaks to the human condition.
And it’s brought to life by three fantastic talents. Andrew Garfield is just as good, if not better, as his turn in The Social Network. Carey Mulligan is versatile, able to be both soft and sharp at the slightest notice. And Keira Knightley is able to thrash the scenery with the simple way she carries herself through a room.
Yet another of the binding elements of this film is the fantastic cinematography. While many films look great, this one uses its visuals to express more than just a visual mood. It captures the softness and naivety, but also that lurking darkness that creeps into the lives of the characters. It’s without a doubt the finest looking picture I’ve seen all year.
Never Let Me Go is a delightful character driven piece, rich in mood and theme, photographed with dark romanticism. It’s the subtlest kind of sci-fi, the one that doesn’t take us far from our own world, but challenges us to think as much as any Phillip K. Dick story. Don’t let this one pass you by, like many a hidden gem it’s easy to miss if you aren’t looking for it.
© 2011 James Blake Ewing