BLOGS

Never Let Me Go: Wistfully, Science-Fiction Theatre 3000

The science-fiction underpinnings of Never Let Me Go are only hinted at in most of the advertising for the film, which is probably a good idea, because it's first and foremost a love story. Granted, the story takes place in an alternate reality, where the characters are all pawns in a grand experiment in selective health care, but don't go into it expecting lasers and laboratories. The movie is based on a book by Kazuo Ishiguro, the author of The Remains of the Day, which was about an emotionally repressed butler, so that should give you an idea of what to expect here.

The movie is divided into three sections, and the first section follows three children at Hailsham, what appears to be a British boarding school. Kathy is a thoughtful girl who is very interested in Tommy, a boy prone to emotional outbursts, especially when teased, and she's friends with Ruth, who seems to be self-centered. As we watch Kathy and Tommy slowly fall in love, before Ruth steps in and steals him, we see that Hailsham is slightly unusual: cigarette smoking is discouraged in the name of "internal health," they have check-ups in a spotless examination room where every bruise is examined, and the children put on plays that are basically rehearsals for everyday social interactions. We (and at least one classroom full of children) eventually learn from a disillusioned teacher that the reason for it all is that the children will grow to adulthood, donate their internal organs to medicine, then die. They're clones, which makes this a very British version of The Island, one directed by James Ivory instead of Michael Bay.

If that sounds to you like somebody ruined The Island, well, there's probably going to be little for you here. No explosions, no expensive sailboats, just unrequited love as Kathy, Ruth and Tommy grow up and move to a farm where "donors" are allowed to live until they reach the age of donation. The teenage Kathy, now played by Carey Mulligan, still harbors feelings for Tommy (Andrew Garfield), and he likes her, too, but he's under the spell of Ruth, who has (unfortunately for Kathy) grown up to be Keira Knightley. We are occasionally given glimpses into the workings of the system they live in -- searching for the people they're cloned from, applying to be "carers," who act as advocates for those making donations -- but it's really all about Kathy trying to get by knowing that the love of her short life is sleeping with a crazy bitch.

The third section sees where they are once they've reached donation age, and that's where it gets even more heartbreaking, so be warned: they spend a lot of time in hospitals and recovery centers. There's really no way for a movie like this to have a happy ending, but that's more or less okay, because it's a well-done film over all. The director, Mark Romanek, previously did One Hour Photo, which shouldn't bode well, but the movie is sweet when it needs to be, sad at other times and always very beautiful. Mulligan looks like she's going to cry all the time, but at least there's a reason for it, and Knightley is surprisingly unlikeable in the role of the selfish, insensitive Ruth. And Andrew Garfield's big, tousled hair puts Robert Pattinson's to shame.

There is one moment in the movie that struck me as kinda hinky, when the head of the school (Charlotte Rampling) tells the children that outspoken teacher Miss Lucy is gone, and then goes on to talk about how Hailsham is the last facility of its kind, and nobody appreciates her attempts to humanize the donation process, and all of a sudden it turns into a rally, and kids are standing and clapping for her, and I had a hard time figuring out why the kids were at all moved by this. Did they fully understand what she was talking about? Because the last time they got this excited was when a truckload of broken toys showed up for them to purchase. Other than that, the movie was an intriguing look at a dystopic alternate reality, and it was refreshing to watch the characters try to survive within it rather than rebel against it. Sorry, Bay -- I like this clone saga a lot better.

Did you see Never Let Me Go? Let us know what you thought in the comments.

Check out Never Let Me Go director Mark Romanek's amazing music videos.

Find out about the biggest casting near-misses in Hollywood history.

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