Film Review: Never Let Me Go

An adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel, Never Let Me Go is a drama that reaches for a strong emotional resonance, but feels cold at times. Performances are great, but for a film about emotions, the bleakness does not necessarily generate the heart-felt response it should.

Kathy grows up at a boarding school in England, in a world where humans are cloned to provide internal organs for those require them. Never Let Me Go follows the relationship Kathy has with her friends Tommy and Ruth as they grow up, knowing there is a definite and premature expiry date for each of them…

From a science fiction point of view, the dystopian set-up is intriguing in its possibilities. Mark Romanek’s film, however, is unambiguous in its decision to concentrate on the relationship between the protagonists, rather than explore the philosophical and ethical implications of the premise. Never Let Me Go is a film about relationships and the human condition, the dystopian sphere merely facilitates the drama to play out.

Kathy is a tragic protagonist; at times it is easy to empathise with her situation, on other occasions it is difficult to relate to her. The biggest problem with the film is that it is nearly impossible to understand why the trio is so passive in their situation. Although the narrative is concerned with their relationships with each other, the idea of the characters attempting to evade their fate is noticeably absent. The fact that the script doesn’t even consider this serves as a distraction throughout the film.

Instead, Never Let Me Go concerns itself almost entirely with the changing relationship between the three friends. As narrator, we see things from Kathy’s point of view; as a result the actions of Ruth and Tommy can appear ambiguous. In this dystopian world where donors are resigned to their fate, the characters are both entirely human in their behaviour but also unrelatable in their situation. Coupled with this is the inadequacy of the script. The dialogue at times does not convey the significance it should, given the gravity of some of the scenes.

Andrew Garfield and Carey Mulligan give excellent performances as Tommy and Cathy. They are both wholly believable, and carry the film when the script lets it down. Keira Knightley is guilty of overacting in some scenes; the more subtle performances of Mulligan and Garfield certainly outshine hers. Isobel Meikle-Small as the young Cathy is perfectly cast, exhibiting a striking resemblance to her older counterpart.

The film is beautifully shot by director Romanek. The muted colours used in the film work well to generate a setting that is recogniseable yet different with the limited palette. Never Let Me Go is aesthetically pleasing, but lacks the emotional punch to match.

Undoubtedly some viewers will find Never Let Me Go very emotional. In certain parts of the film, tragedy is conveyed acutely. However, this is not sustained, resulting in a film that lacks heart where it is really needed.

Never Let Me Go is being screened at the British Film Institute’s London Film Festival in October 2010.