Annie reviews: Never Let Me Go
Never Let Me Go has much more than a pseudo sci-fi love triangle at the heart of it. This film adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2005 Booker shortlisted novel has been woefully underappreciated and under-applauded in this year’s round of industry awards. It seems surprising, even shocking, that a British made film, based on a novel written by a man hailed as one of Britain’s greatest living writers, scripted by the same fellow who brought us The Beach, and starring some of Britain’s best home grown talent (I’m talking mostly about Carey Mulligan here, but Keira Knightley is actually pretty good, and Andrew Garfield plays adorable very well...) would have been ignored by the BAFTAs, but ignored it has been.
I was really excited about seeing this film – as excited as I was to see Black Swan, but unlike the latter Never Let Me Go didn’t disappoint. It’s certainly a slow burner of film; it gets under your skin and stays there for much longer than you might expect given it’s unhurried pace, and sense of muted disquiet. There are no nails being pulled off fingers here, and yet Never Let Me Go is so much more disturbing than Black Swan could have ever hoped to be.
Mulligan plays Cathy H, a woman nearing the end of her life aged just 28, and as we first meet her, watching the man she loves lie on a surgical table, in all likelihood about to die. This is Cathy’s present we are watching, but it is certainly, thankfully, not ours. Time then rewinds to the 1970s, in which Cathy and her peers are students at Hailsham House, a school which seems to be able to combine English sun splashed idyll and an undercurrent of unsettling, and unnerving secrets. It’s the renegade Miss Lucy, played by Sally Hawkins who finally explains things to both us and her young students. They are all clones; Cathy, Ruth (Knightley), Tommy (Garfield), and the rest created only to become donors once they’ve reached maturity.
For a few brief years they are allowed to live as semi adults, away from Hailsham in a set of cottages, where most of them indulge in playing at being ‘normal’ and ‘grown-up’, from lessons learned from TV and magazines. By this point it’s important to note that the object of Cathy’s affections Tommy has been in a relationship with her best friend Ruth for much of their school years. Cathy is left alone in a sea of couples, and she reprimands Ruth for acting around Tommy how they have seen couples act on TV. What this film – and presumably the book – does so well, is to highlight how different Cathy feels for being a clone; for not being an ‘original’, but to portray these differences as the exact things which make us all human. She experiences jealousy, love, a desire for companionship, sexual urges she feels so strongly she assumes her own ‘original’ must have been a porn star or sex worker, only to be told years later by Tommy that ‘we all felt it’.
Cathy’s frustration at her friends and peers ‘pretending’ to be adult and human resonates so strongly with the audience, because the fact is that she may not feel like an adult, but who ever really does? Her fears, frustrations, and feelings serve to make her feel alien and alone; especially alone as she not only yearns for Tommy, but to find her ‘original’. This otherness she experiences, however, is also what makes her so real, and so human. The desperation we see in her cottage-mates Rod and Chrissie’s eyes, all just to spend just a few more years together is yet more proof that this film isn’t about the ethics of science, but the ethics of humanity and the process of becoming fully evolved adults and humans – a process which takes so long and yet can go by in the blink of an eye.
Of course coming out of this film will make you question the ethics of such scientific controversies as stem cell research, but there’s no real science here. This story is fully human and it’s the realisation of this humanity that lingers with you the longest.