It seems that 2010 is the year of underwhelming films. So many movies with so much potential have come out and struggled to reach the top. Special people with real talent have come together and delivered quality, but few have been worthy of consideration on a best of the year list. Last week’s The Town was one of those movies. Never Let Me Go is another. A handful of great performers team up with a prized director in what is yet again a good, but all the same disappointing, film.
In the early 1960’s, medical science had a breakthrough that expanded the life expectancy of humans to over 100 years. Unfortunately, it required harvesting the organs of people genetically engineered specifically for that purpose, which, consequently, killed them in the process. Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Ruth (Keira Knightley) and Tommy (Andrew Garfield) are three of those people. They were friends as children, but now they’re all grown up and Tommy and Ruth have begun a romantic relationship while Kathy remains alone. Perhaps because of this, Kathy decides to become a “carer,” a person who comforts donors as they go through their period of giving away their organs. The trio has now grown apart, having not seen each other in 10 years, but Kathy soon finds out that Ruth has been called upon to donate, which brings them together again.
Based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go feels like it was adapted literally page by page. Although I haven’t read it, I say this because novels tend to move a bit slower, taking more time to flesh out its details. What the movie does is skip over the details while keeping the sluggish pace.
And its slow pacing is a problem because there's a general lack of connection to the characters. Although it’s emotionally complex, it’s also curiously flat. The characters go through a range of feelings—happiness, sadness, loneliness, jealousy, rage and regret—but there’s a detachment between them and the audience. We don't feel what they do. Their world feels faked and the ending doesn’t work because of a disregard for character building. So little time was spent crafting a believable connection between the two end characters (whom shall remain nameless to avoid spoilers) that I cared little about what happened to them. I was always aware I was watching a movie.
Although Never Let Me Go stumbles in its character development, it is thematically rich and offers up plenty to think about and discuss. It may tackle similar territory as something like Repo Men or Repo! The Genetic Opera, but this movie isn’t simply about blood and violence. It asks what makes one person more valuable than another. It wonders if cloned organisms can be considered actual living things or merely soulless tools with which to slaughter and use at our behest. It even shows the benefit of one person sacrificing their life to save another, an allegory for a number of things, including war.
There’s a certain scariness to Never Let Me Go, similar to what I imagine it would be like to be on death row. These characters know their fate is sealed. They know one day they will be summoned to die and, once summoned, it's like a ticking clock counting down to the end. It’s an unsettling thought, one I would never want to live with. I suppose that’s where the movie impresses the most. It’s dramatically lacking, but it still keeps you hooked because it deftly explores morality and mortality, knowing full well that death is too often caused by the hands of others.
Never Let Me Go receives 3.5/5