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Ravings Of A Film Fanatic: Never Let Me Go

Words by Chris Elms

Where the heck do I start with Never Let Me Go? This is one hell’uva film, I’ll tell you that right away. I’ll also tell you that it’s going to be almost impossible to talk about without spoiling at least a certain percentage, so if you plan on seeing this some time soon (and if you’re a film fan I highly advise you do) and don’t want anything given away, stop reading right about now (though I will do my best to avoid any major spoilers).

I read someone online call this “The least sci-fi science fiction film ever made”, and while I don’t quite agree, the dude ain’t a million miles away. Although the film gives you virtually no back-story at all, the premise is that in an alternate universe, medical science has developed significantly more rapidly than in ours, and by the 1970s (I think) they can not only successfully clone people, but produce hundreds of them with the specific purpose of harvesting their organs. Thing is, these aren’t brainless, vegetable clones grown in a lab, these are real people. They grow the same speed we do, have personalities, feelings and for all intents and purposes are human. The three main characters in Never Let Me Go are three of these clones, and the film begins when they’re children and goes right up until they have to face their eventual destinies.

To say we’re given virtually no back-story is actually kind of an understatement. All through the film I found myself asking a thousand and one questions about this world our characters inhabit (and after the moment the credits rolled that number increased significantly). The kids stay at what would otherwise be a standard, posh British boarding school. They’re told that they’re ‘special’, but that’s literally it. What about the rest of the world? What do the regular people think about this? How has such a horrible concept come to be reality? If the clones know their fate why the fuck don’t they don’t they try to escape?

We spend quite a bit of time with our characters at Havisham School (I think that was its name anyways), Cary Mulligan’s Kathy is our narrator and main character and glosses over the cold hard facts we’re so interested in, in favour of existentialist reflection, and while that may sound cynical it’s actually pretty cool. Mulligan’s voice is filled with such heart-ache I was emotionally invested almost instantly, and does give us some insight into at least who these kids are. The three actors who play the young versions are all pretty solid, and actually look a great deal like their grown-up counter-parts, helping to make this a very immersive movie.

The film is so distant, the macabre subject matter washes over every scene with a cold foreboding that is at times unsettling, and others, beautiful. It’s creepy in a calm sorta’ way. At one point we see a couple of delivery men bringing the school supplies, and the way they look at these kids is simply horrific.

Kathy and Andrew Garfield’s Tommy are basically soul mates, and in between them is Keira Knightley’s Ruth. This group dynamic - which evolves over the course of the film - is another huge bucket of sadness that this film will throw over you, and suffice to say, what’s meant to be, doesn’t quite happen that way. But by God, these three actors are wonderful. Their performances are among the very best I saw last year and have seen in quite a while. I really cared about these guys, and so the melancholic nature of Never Let Me Go begins to take shape.

It isn't often a film comes along with such a massive amount of emotional weight it feels like getting punched in the heart, but that's what Mark Romanek brings to the table here. As it went on I found myself wishing I could walk into my TV just to give Kathy a hug. It’s so incredibly tragic, I’m still at a loss as to whether I actually enjoyed it or not. I was honestly dumfounded when it ended, my brain scrambling to process exactly what it was I was supposed to have taken away from the flick’s 103 minute running time besides feeling sadder than I have in a very long time.

To start with, I was asking those questions I mentioned above. I can almost guarantee your average audience member (the kind of average audience member that thought Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was ‘pretty good’ and Little Fockers looks ‘funny’) will flat out hate Never Let Me Go, because it just won’t make sense. They will ask all the questions I did, and probably feel like they wasted their time watching the film in the first place. But what I have come to realise, is that asking questions and expecting the film to answer you isn’t the point, it’s asking yourself and others questions ABOUT the film AFTER you’ve taken it in. One person could find this a bitter take on existence in general, and another could see an almost uplifting take on exactly what’s truly important in life. By not really putting a lot in context, Romanek leaves a fairly wide space for personal interpretation.

For that reason, I highly recommend this movie. Heck, if you take away the subject matter it’s worth watching for the performances and top-notch cinematography alone. But if you like to be challenged by films, this will be right up your street. I’ve been thinking about Never Let Me Go for the last couple of weeks since I saw it, and I reckon I will still be thinking about it in another fortnight’s time, it’s that powerful. Like it or loathe it, I guarantee you’ll want to talk about it afterwards.

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