This is a film I must say that I didn’t know much about until recently. I knew who the cast was, and wasn’t that thrilled. I knew who the director was, and thought it could be cool. Then I read it was about an elite boarding school and thought it could be completely pretentious. And then I heard that it was actually a science fiction film and thought maybe I missed something. And then I realized it was based on a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro and went out and saw it.
It wasn’t until I heard the first part of a podcast from Screenwriter Magazine (if you are into film and don’t listen yet, go subscribe on iTunes) that I stopped the podcast and decided it was only worth listening to more if I saw the movie.
And I was definitely missing something. This movie is about a boarding school, but it is absolutely not the type of film or story I was expecting. To say it is about a boarding school is to say Titanic is about a boat. This boarding school is very special, and therein lies the reason this film is so special. Why it isn’t a Merchant Ivory film, although its pacing and cinematic elements might remind a viewer of such.
It has taken me a few days to write this review because it is still sitting with me. I’m not sure I’ve even fully reflected on the film to be honest. And once I got home I listened to not only that podcast, but an interview with Mark Romanek on NPR and reviews of the film from FilmSpotting and /Filmcast.
Never Let Me Go moves at such a languid pace, it almost comes to a crawl. Yet, each and every scene is brimming with tension, suspense and a general excitement (on my part) as to what is going to happen next. And after listening to Romanek, this is what he was going for. Although the film takes place in England (an alternate history England), it has Japanese sensibilities and this was a very conscious decision from an exacting filmmaker. For me, it works. I got sucked in and by the end almost didn’t want to leave.
At its heart the film is a love story. A love that goes unrequited and is conveyed with one of the most powerful performances I’ve seen in a long time. I’ve been hearing about how great Carey Mulligan is for a while now (since last year’s An Education), but she always struck me as a boring looking actress who would lean towards pretentious films. Sorry Carey… you really shine here. Andrew Garfield does a fine job, and Keira Knightley is serviceable – but they are blown away by Mulligan. And with Romanek doing so much with so little, in terms of camera moves, dialogue, score, etc… she is the perfect actress for this part.
Without saying a lot Never Let Me Go managed to hit me pretty hard. I’m still grappling with the ideas it presents about mortality, the soul and what it means to be human. I have always believed that any film that keeps you thinking, making you question things, etc… after you’ve left the theater is worth its weight in gold. This will be at the top of my year end lists and I highly recommend it. Just don’t go in expecting action, or even romance.