Directors: Mark Romanek
Running Time: 1hr 43minutes.
Never Let Me Go or, as predictive text on my mobile phone keeps referring to it, ‘Never Let Of In’. It’s difficult to know what, if any, plot points to reveal about Mark Romanek’s follow-up to the underrated One Hour Photo – he bolted from 2010’s The Wolfman mid-shoot due to creative differences, ie. He wanted it to be good but the producers had their hearts set on it being a piece of shit. In truth, the less you know, the more you’ll get from Never Let Me Go. As with Kazuo Ishiguro’s source novel, there is no great twist in the narrative, more a progressive revealing of detail about the characters peculiar lives and, more importantly, deaths. Oh no. Don’t read that last part, OK?
Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Tommy (new Spiderman Andrew Garfield) and Ruth (Kiera Knightley) grow up in bizarro boarding school Hailsham. At Hailsham the students are educated, encouraged to create art for possible selection in an unseen ‘Gallery’ and prepared for their special role in the world – ‘How To Order A Cup Of Tea’ being one particular group lesson. As they grow into adolescence, they leave the Hogwarts-without-the-wands comfort of Hailsham and relocate to ‘The Cottages’ to continue their training and prepare for the, um, future. Portraying the central love story less obliquely than the source material – probably essential for the adaptation to connect – it soon becomes apparent that Kathy and Tommy are longing to have ‘grown-up hugs for adults’ but the small matter of Tommy and Ruth being boyfriend and girlfriend is a real inconvenience. Ok, I’ll stop there.
If this entire love-triangle trauma sounds selective in its appeal, perhaps adding that there is a sci-fi twist to events might prevent you from missing out on a Five-Point-Palm-Exploding-Heart-Punch of a movie like Never Let Me Go. A lion’s share of the credit for its brand of glorious devastation belongs to the actors. And they do their actings so very, very well. Carey Mulligan has switched from screaming ‘stardom’ to pretty much spitting it in our faces. So strong is the 25-year-old’s performance that Romanek confidently lingers on her wordless reactions during some of the most heightened emotional moments. When we’re introduced to her, she stands on the safe side of a surgery observation window, her voiceover soothing (a rabid meth head going cold turkey could be sedated by her luscious tombre) but detached, hinting that everything isn’t quite right. And it really isn’t right at all. No more is this evident than with Tommy.
Garfield gives an almost stomach churning sadness to him; at times in a cloud of childish curiosity and stumbling naivety, but prone to rages that express the true torture of his pre-destined life. The single image of him on his knees, pasty and sickly, trying to impress a couple of old dears with his drawings of elephants, might just be the most sorrowful film moment of the year. Or maybe it’s just his slightly stupid-looking face. Either way, goddamn it’s sad. Knightley is brave with her performance. That is to say her Ruth is, for the most part, an unsympathetic wagon. This is vital for us to believe in Tommy and Kathy, though, so it speaks to her skills that she allows Mulligan & Garfield to excel in her personal ugliness.
With such skilled fleshbags doing the business in front of the camera, Romanek can comfortably place them in his most meticulously manicured world. Yes, One Hour Photo had Robin fucking Williams but it also had a very carefully authored aesthetic, and Never Let Me Go seems to set that attentive eye out as Romanek’s modus operandi. This is a beautifully designed film, from the decidedly communist colour palette to the scorched earth tones of the production design and styling. Many a baking, bike-riding, jam-making urban outfitter will have their eyeballs frothing at the Hailsham alumni’s blend of cardigans, knitted sweaters, Wellington boots, flower-pattern dresses, wooly hats, vintage brogues, corduroy, teapots, gingham and oh-so-cosy looking blankets. Not a ‘shell-suits and baseball caps’ type of gang, then.
Never letting the audience go (I’M SO SORRY) from its entirely subjective reality, you’d be blameless if all these goodies mixed together left you somewhat cold. For every punter who’ll have their grief glands tickled by poor Tommy and his elephants, there’ll be one who sees NLMG as a BBC drama with more famous actors, and its irregular humanity nothing more than perplexing. In truth, Alex ‘The Beach’ Garland’s script streamlines the novel to its bare bones and some details are sadly missed – the issue of their infertility is ignored, as is an almost ten page exposition from the book’s final moments. But if the questions you sometimes ask yourself are along the lines of ‘what is it that makes me the human being I am?’ and not ‘butter or mayonnaise on my jumbo breakfast roll?’ then this is a film you need to see. With a capital ‘SIGH’.
Oh, I almost forgot. SPOILER ALERT.