Never Let Me Go
Or how Alex Garland doesn’t let go of Kazuo Ishiguro’s spirit…
Before you watch Never Let Me Go, do take care and prepare yourself mentally to watch scenes that will tug at your heartstrings: when young Kathy (isobel Meikle-Small) inadvertently got slapped by young Tommy (Charlie Rowe); when Kathy witnessed Tommy’s first kiss with young Ruth (Ella Purnell); when the 18-year-old blonde sat on her bed, hugging a pillow while listening to fictional singer Judy Bridgewater singing “baby, never let me go“, as she overhears her friends Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley) make love in the other room; when the adult Ruth was laid on an operating table, her body cut open, after completing her last donation; when Tommy’s eyes close for the final time, gazing at Kathy and seemingly saying ‘goodbye’ through that sad stare; and when Kathy asked to nobody, “How are we any different than the people whose lives we saved?”
Alex Garland’s script literally took the thickly depressive/melancholic mood out of Kazuo Ishiguro’s book. The novel didn’t try to explain what cloning is and how and why it was performed in this society, so Garland didn’t explain it either. Garland’s Kathy, Ruth and Tommy are pretty much Ishiguro’s Kathy, Ruth and Tommy, who accepted their lot without question. This is disturbing because anyone in the audience with a common sense would want the trio to fight for their lives. But Garland, surprisingly, didn’t take the bait – he didn’t try to change their destinies and gave them the same beginning, middle and end that Ishiguro gave them. For the first time, in so many uncountable years, an adapted screenplay is able to translate perfectly the language of the book it came from to a perfect cinematic language.
Unfortunately, Garland’s bravery – let’s call it that – to go this way is not supported by a convincing filmmaking from director Mark Romanek’s part. Romanek seems overly deliberate in filming Never Let Me Go: the setting, cinematography, music and even lighting are too neat… so much that it appeared to be smugly yelling, “Hey, come on, give us an award!” There’s no originality or ‘heart’ from Romanek and not even Mulligan’s outstanding performance (which is infinitely more skilled than Garfield and Knightley’s) could stop the movie from being more sympathetic, friendlier and easier to embrace. Then again, perhaps that was what they wanted all along…
VERDICT Mulligan, Garfield & Knightley are the real reasons why this movie is a must-watch, but the flat story and the cold, clinical filmmaking won’t win any awards, both in the Oscar race and in the box office.
THE REMAINS OF THE DAY (1993)
The first movie adaptation of Ishiguro’s novel, and the more successful one, from veteran James Ivory.
THE ISLAND (2005)
This Michael Bay cloning actioner is obnoxious as hell, but at least there is more color in this one.
CHILDREN OF MEN (2006)
Another adaptation of a dystopic novel, helmed by the great Alfonso
Cuarón with a smashing ensemble cast.
Mulligan is attached to two further adaptations of famous novels,The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald) and On Chesil Beach (Ian McEwan).
An Indonesian language version of this review will appear in a future issue of Total Film Indonesia. Please buy the magazine to have a look at it.