Based on Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel, Never Let Me Go tells the story of three children living in an English boarding school in a dystopian world as they’re prepared to become donors. During their teenage and adult years, a love triangle is formed by the three while they discover the world outside of their boarding school life. Directed by Mark Romanek with an adapted script by Alex Garland, the film is a mixture of science fiction and drama set from the 1950s to the 1980s. Starring Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, Andrew Garfield, Domhnall Gleeson, Andrea Riseborough, Sally Hawkins, and Charlotte Rampling. Never Let Me Go is a heartbreaking yet mesmerizing drama from Mark Romanek and company.
It’s 1978 as three 11-year old kids named Kathy (Isobel Miekle-Small), Ruth (Ella Purnell), and Tommy (Charlie Rowe) live in a boarding school called Hailsham where their life is idyllic. Yet, they are really children whose fate is set as they’re to become donors for other people while some have the option of becoming a carer, to help care for the donors. The school is run by Miss Emily (Charlotte Rampling) as the children are not aware of what is outside of the school boundaries as they’re afraid of what will happen after hearing many stories. When a new teacher named Miss Lucy (Sally Hawkins) arrives at the school, she becomes the kind of person the kids enjoy. Yet, she is haunted by what kind of school Hailsham is.
While Kathy and Tommy are very close, their relationship changes when Ruth takes Tommy for her own. Seven years later, Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Ruth (Keira Knightley), and Tommy (Andrew Garfield) are moved to cottages as they’re now 18 and deciding what to do. Living with a couple of other teens from other schools named Rodney (Domhnall Gleeson) and Chrissie (Andrea Riseborough). Hearing rumors that they’re really clones and the idea that they have originals along another rumor about getting deferrals if they can prove to their superiors about true love so they can be reprieved. Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth are wondering about as Tommy believes to be true though Kathy and Ruth aren’t sure. Even as Ruth and Tommy are having trouble in their relationship as Kathy decides to become a carer.
It’s been 10 years since Kathy leaves the cottage as she has become a carer helping her fellow donors. While she’s been successful, she hasn’t seen Ruth nor Tommy since she left the cottage. During another day at the hospital in caring for a donor, she discovers that Ruth is in the same hospital donating. The already-frail Ruth reveals where Tommy is as they go to visit him at another hospital as he looks well despite having donated three times. When Ruth reveals something about the rumored deferrals, she suggests that Tommy and Kathy take a chance to meet the school’s madam (Nathalie Richard). Tommy and Kathy decide to meet the madam with Tommy’s art work as he believes that the school gallery had more meeting as they get a surprise appearance from someone from their past.
The idea that there’s people created to become donors for others as they lead short lives seems like a troubling concept. Yet, from the perspective of these donors knowing what they’re fate is. It actually becomes more compelling since the film is all told from the perspective of Kathy as she sees her two closest friends deal with the same fate she’s facing as she is caring for them later on. Even as she is in love with Tommy while is being part of a love triangle with Tommy and Ruth.
Alex Garland’s screenplay is superb not just for its structure by allowing the film to be told in three parts in Kathy’s journey. Also for exploring the characters in their surroundings and the situation they’re put upon. While Kathy is the center of the story of how she sees things and being the observer of everything that is happening. Her perspective of how Tommy and Ruth act are interesting. Tommy is an emotionally-fragile person who often feels left out and unsure of himself as he is later revealed to be a talented artist. Ruth is a person who becomes jealous of Tommy’s friendship with Kathy as she becomes Tommy’s lover. Yet, she is the most troubled because she wants to be loved while only to be destroyed by guilt as she tries to redeem herself.
Garland’s script also brings an idea of how outsiders think of all of this as the character of Miss Sally wonders why Tommy didn’t get a ball outside of the fence during a game. Even as she learns more about the art gallery while there’s one amazing scene where Miss Sally gives this monologue that is heartbreaking about what these kids are facing. Yet, it would allow the chance for someone like Kathy to try and lead a normal life as a carer despite the fact that she’s going to become a donor soon. The dystopian feel of the story is balanced by the romance and longing for love that the story needs as Garland’s work is superb.
Mark Romanek’s direction features what is definitely his best work to date as a director. From the way he frames big scenes of the school, beaches, and fields in the varied locations all over Britain. To even a simple shot of a ball on the ground during a rainy day. Romanek is always interested in what is going on as he lets the drama unfold while creating dark moods for some of the film’s more dramatic scenes. Yet, there are a few times when the drama is hampered by the score during scenes of dialogue where the music isn’t necessary. The silent moments is where Romanek really strengthens the drama including a scene where the young Kathy sees Tommy and Ruth and her reaction is just one of the most heartbreaking moments.
While the film is partially a sci-fi movie based on its concept. Romanek approaches the film as if he’s making a period film where while it’s set in three different periods. They all look like it’s a very different period than the ones they’re set in. 1978 looks more like 1950-1960s. The 1985 segment looks a bit like 1970s while 1994 looks like a mixture of all of those things except for the hospital scenes and some exterior shots. Romanek’s overall work is truly dazzling in its imagery and staging as he is truly becoming a director to watch out for.
Cinematographer Adam Kimmel does an amazing job with the film’s gorgeous cinematography. Kimmel’s work is truly amazing from the rainy days where the green matches with the gray rainy skies in the Hailsham scenes along with some lush interior shots matched with the dark shadows inside the school. Even as the film moves out of the school, the scenes in the forests, beaches, and other natural environments are truly stunning. Even in the hospital scenes as the look inside the dark hallways matched with other lights play to the dread of what is going to happen to some of the characters brings a lot to its look. Overall, Kimmel’s work is definitely one of 2010’s best work.
Editor Barney Pillons does some excellent work on the editing from the rhythmic cuts to intensify some of the film’s dramatic moments. Even in the transitions where Pillons help play to what Kathy is dealing with and the reaction afterwards. Pillons also helps in creating some nice fade-ins to help present each section of the film for its structure. Production designer Mark Digby, along with set decorator Michelle Day and art directors Paul Cripps and Denis Schnegg, does a spectacular job with the different looks for each of the film‘s main locations. From the 1950s-like look of the Hailsham school to the rural cottages that the kids live in as teenagers. Even the look of the city where Kathy lives in has a more modern look along with some set pieces that help play to the film’s different periods. Another noted piece of the art direction is Tommy’s drawings by Charlie Cobb which is some amazing drawings to reflect Tommy’s personality.
Costume designers Rachael Fleming and Steve Noble do a wonderful job with the different clothes that the characters wear from the school uniforms to the casual clothes that they wear as teens and adults. Notably the suits that Tommy wears and the colorful dresses that Kathy wears late in the film. Sound designer Glenn Freemantle does fantastic work with the sound from the hollowed sounds of the school to the quieter though chaotic world of the cottages where sex is often happening. Freemantle also plays to the quieter scenes with natural sounds of waves in the beach scenes along with the shots in the forest during a conversation between Kathy and Tommy.
The film’s score by Rachel Portman is very good for some of the dramatic touches including some flourishing pieces for the less dramatic moments. Some of the film’s more heavier scenes does have broader arrangements though at times, it goes a bit overboard. Notably a scene between Ruth and Kathy where the music is playing as the two are talking which was really unnecessary. Additional music from supervisors Randall Poster and George Drakoulias features a mixture of classical pieces and low-key rock stuff yet the most notable track is the song Never Let Me Go sung by Jane Monheit which is the real highlight of the film’s soundtrack as it plays to what Kathy is reacting about Tommy and Ruth’s relationship.
The casting by Kate Dowd is superb with a cast that is truly magnificent. Notable small roles include Domhnall Gleeson and Andrea Riseborough as two fellow teens living in the cottages who believe about a rumor at Hailsham as well as Nathalie Richard as an art teacher called Madam. Another small performance that has a great monologue is Sally Hawkins as Miss Lucy. Hawkins’ performance is mesmerizing about how she observes things at Hailsham while her performance in which she tells the kids about their fate is definitely heartbreaking. Charlotte Rampling is phenomenal as Miss Emily, the school’s headmistress who isn’t a typical authority figure but one who believes about what the school represents. Rampling as this commanding presence when she gives speeches that is truly a marvel to watch as she remains one of the best actresses working today.
In the younger roles of Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy. Isobel Miekle-Small, Ella Purnell, and Charlie Rowe are outstanding as the young characters they portray. Miekle-Small sells the innocence of Kathy while being the one character who comforts the young Tommy during his anguish. Even in a scene where her reaction to Tommy and Ruth’s romance is truly stunning in how little she portrays that reaction. Purnell is very good in providing the outgoing personality of Ruth by talking a lot and being all smug about the happenings at the school. Rowe is amazing for bringing the anguish and insecurity of Tommy along with his quiet persona when he’s just trying to draw.
Keira Knightley is excellent as Ruth, the most adventurous of the trio who envies Tommy and Kathy’s friendship along with the possibilities about the world outside of where she’s destined to do. For Knightley, it’s her darkest role as she plays a character that is very mean and at times, angry as it’s proof that there’s more to Knightley than her looks and the profile she has in Hollywood. Andrew Garfield is fantastic as Tommy, the anguished young man who is caught in the middle of a love triangle between he, Ruth, and Kathy. Garfield’s performance is spellbinding for someone who is quite innocent while dealing with the rumors he hears about Halisham as well the fact that he’s torn between Kathy and Ruth.
Finally, there’s Carey Mulligan in a spectacular performance as Kathy. A towering follow-up to her Oscar-nominated breakthrough role in Lone Scherfig’s An Education. Mulligan truly captures the sense of longing about wanting Tommy while dealing with her own discoveries about sex and individuality. Her best work is in the third act as she becomes a carer and sees what Ruth and Tommy each have to deal with. It’s a radiant for the young actress as well as proof that she’s one of Britain’s rising talents.
The Region 1 DVD from Fox Searchlight presents the film in the widescreen aspect ratio of 2:35:1 with 5.1 English Dolby Digital plus Spanish and French Surround Sound and subtitles in Spanish and English for the hearing impaired. The special features of the DVD includes a 30-minute making-of featurette called The Secrets of Never Let Me Go.
The making-of featurette features interviews with director Mark Romanek, screenwriter Alex Garland, novelist Kazuo Ishiguro, and actors Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, Keira Knightley, Isobel Miekle-Small, Ella Purnell, and Charlie Rowe. They discuss Ishiguro’s novel as well as the development of the film. Particularly in wanting to get a fresh perspective of a film that is essentially British as Mark Romanek was chosen for his visual presentation. Romanek wanted to create something different that is seen in period films which impressed Ishiguro who was also impressed by the young actors chosen to play the roles.
Mulligan, Garfield, and Knightley got to talk about their approach to their performances while helping the younger actors, who play their respective younger versions, to get their approach to the characters. Romanek also talks about the visual approach of the film as well as the dramatic approach to the film. Even as he reveals that for a lot of the objects in the film, he wanted them to feel dated and used just to give an idea of what the characters are living with. The overall featurette is superb as it reveals what was done for the film.
Three galleries appear in the special features content of the DVD. First is Mark Romanek’s on-set photography which is a three-minute featurette of black-and-white photo stills to the score of Rachel Portman. The second gallery is Tommy’s artwork that is a two-and-a-half minute piece featuring all of the drawings played to another piece of Portman’s score. The third and final gallery is a collection of programs and graphic from Halisham school and the National Donor Programme group. The two-minute piece with another piece of Portman’s score reveals leaflets, flyers, and posters representing the school and donors program. Also in the DVD is the film’s theatrical trailer plus trailers for Conviction, 127 Hours, Cyrus, and a 75th Anniversary special for 20th Century Fox. It’s an overall good DVD though its lack of huge special features is a bit disappointing.
Never Let Me Go is a remarkable yet heart wrenching drama from Mark Romanek. Featuring wonderful performances from Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, Keira Knightley, Sally Hawkins, and Charlotte Rampling along with the young children that play the younger characters. It’s a film that deserves its reputation as a weepie that truly earns its heartbreak over the situation the characters live in. For Mark Romanek, this is his best film to date as he ups his game and more as a feature-film director. In the end, Never Let Me Go is an amazing yet enchanting film from Mark Romanek and company.
Favorite Films #6: Never Let Me Go
© thevoid99 2011