September 25, 2010

Never Let Me Go (09/25/2010)

(Warning! Below I reveal a little about the premise of the movie that is not clear from watching the trailers, but no real "spoilers"!)

Lettergrade: C+

At long last the prayers of people who liked the concept of Michael Bay's 2005 clone actioner The Island, but wished it had been done as a highly depressing English drama that doesn't have any action in it have been answered.

Never Let Me Go is based on a best selling novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, and tells a multi-decade love story set in an alternate reality that looks a lot like ours, but in which clones have been created for the sole purpose of staying healthy so they can someday donate their organs to non-clones (and likely die in the process).

The movie follows three of them (played as adults by Carey Mulligan, Kiera Knightley and some guy I'd never heard of), and functions in three main segments, taking place in 1978, 1986, and 1992, respectively. Mulligan's child substitute likes Tommy (Andrew Garfield), but a much more aggressive clone who will grow up to be Keira Knightley likes him too. Each time period examines a very different phase of the three's lives and meditates upon how they feel about themselves, each other, and their ultimate purpose.

The movie is beautiful, emotionally haunting, and wildly sad, but I take some major points off the top for ultimately being a bit dramatically inert. It's a little funny to me that I feel that way because when I think of it, there are a few very powerful dramatic devices that work quite well during certain segments of the movie, however the lack of an overall narrative thrust is what really prevented the movie from taking off for me. The segment that leaves the strongest impression is the opening segment, where we think we're looking at a standard English boarding school of the 70s, but slowly begin to realize that something is a little wrong. The classes the children take sure seem to have some unusual subject material, and visitors to the school look at the kids with an unspoken combination of pity and disgust. The beans are spilled about 20 minutes into the film by Happy Go Lucky's wonderful Sally Hawkins, who has a brief role as a young teacher who doesn't seem to have taken the job meaning to cause trouble, but whose conscience upon spending time with the children up close will not allow her to do otherwise.

The film's other revelations are more intimate and interpersonal in scale, and yet the movie feels overly restrained at the same time in a way that put me off. I have not read the book, but I hear that director Mark Romenek and his screenwriter, Alex Garland, stayed pretty close to the source material. They know how to communicate a great deal of emotion with wonderful efficiency and poignancy, but I kept waiting for some key element of the plot to emerge that never quite did.

The movie I kept thinking of throughout Never Let Me Go was 2007's Atonement, another multi-decade British drama in which there similarly is a romance that is strangled at birth by the selfishness of a third party. Knightley is in both movies, although she's the wronged party in the earlier film whereas she's one doing the love obstructin' in this one.

Now the guy they're both hung up over doesn't really seem to have a lot going on, honestly, other than the fact that he's there, and he's obtainable. Sort of like the British clone boarding school equivalent of work hot. I think the movie survives this just fine, but a love triangle like this would seem to work a lot better if you can more clearly understand why both women are fixated on the same dude. Tommy is with Knightley in this movie because she wanted him to be and basically pushed him to do that: whatever his personal feelings may have been, they don't seem relevant to the matter!

I honestly don't think of Atonement (a Best Picture nominee!) much these days, other than to briefly remember the stellar acting from some of the cast, Saoirse Ronan in particular. Never Let Me Go made me feel deeply sad in a way that has stuck with me for much of the last week, but to be honest with you, I suspect that in the future I'm not going to think of it much either.

And check out my journal entry on Atonement.

No comments:

Post a Comment