I can still remember, back in the year 2010, when I first saw Never Let Me Go at the Dallas Angelika. Going into the film, I didn’t really know what was waiting for me. I hadn’t read the novel that it was based on. All I knew was that it had a cool trailer and it starred two of my favorite actresses, Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley. Before I watched Never Let Me Go, I didn’t even know who Andrew Garfield was but that changed quickly. Never Let Me Go took me by surprise. I figured it would be a sad movie, based on the melancholy trailer and title. But I had no idea how sad or effective it would be. By the end of the movie, I was in tears.
And, even though I was already writing for this site at the time, I somehow never wrote up a review of Never Let Me Go. Oh, I certainly meant to. I went out of my way to recommend the movie on twitter. I included it on my list of films that deserved Oscar consideration. But I never actually got around to writing that full review. The emotions were just too overwhelming.
Well, I’m going to use this opportunity to recommend that, if you haven’t already, you make an effort to see Never Let Me Go. It’s a beautifully done film, one that confirms that director Mark Romanek is a major talent who really should have more than just three feature films to his credit. (True, he does have a lot of music videos…) As well, the film was written by Alex Garland, which should interest those of you who fell in love with Ex Machina earlier this year.
As for the film itself, it takes place in a world where, we’re told, a medical breakthrough was discovered in 1952 that allows people to live to be over 100 years old. The details of that medical breakthrough are slowly revealed to us over the course of the film. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to really talk about this film without revealing those details so consider this to be your SPOILER WARNING.
Basically — much as in Clonus — life has been extended through the use of cloning. Cloned children are raised outside of the view of “normal” society. They go to special schools. And when they turn 18, they are harvested for their organs. Clones are told that their ultimate goal is to “complete,” which is a polite way to say that most of them die before they ever reach 30. A few lucky ones are allowed to be “carers.” They take care of and comfort dying clones and, as a result, they get to put off their first organ donation for a few years.
Unlike Clonus, where the cloning was clandestine and done only to benefit the very rich, the clones are not a secret in Never Let Me Go. Everyone knows why they exist and everyone knows what is going to ultimately happen to them. Whenever the clones are allowed to leave their schools and explore the real world, they are greeted with a mix of hostility, fear, and guilt. Because they are due to be sacrificed, society chooses to believe that the clones are somehow less than human.
As for the clones, the majority of them accept their fate. You watch Never Let Me Go and you keep waiting for some sort of revolution and it never comes. Some of the clones are angry. Many of them desperately believe that there’s some way that they can avoid having to give up their organs. A good deal of the film is spent listening to people you’ve come to love talk about getting a “deferral” that the audience knows does not exist. For the most part, though, the clones passively accept their fate because that’s what they’ve been raised to do.
The film itself follows three clones from their childhood to their completion. Kathy (Carey Mulligan) is a carer. Ruth (Keira Knightley) starts out as a snob but softens as her fate becomes more and more inevitable. And, lastly, there’s Tommy (Andrew Garfield). Tommy starts out as an awkward young boy and he grows up to be an awkward young man. Of all of them, Tommy is the most convinced that, as a result of the artwork he innocently drew as a boy, he will somehow be given a deferment. Garfield is so heartbreaking in this role. When he finally snaps and screams in frustration, you scream with him.
Never Let Me Go is not an easy film to watch but it’s one that I highly recommend. It’ll make you think and it’ll make you cry. And after you watch the movie, read Kazuo Ishiguro’s wonderful novel. It’s even more heart-breaking than the movie.