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Never Let Me Go

A movie directed by Mark Romanek

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Children with Special Deeds

  • Sep 25, 2010
Walking out of "Never Let Me Go," I felt as if I had experienced a death. This isn't to suggest that the film pushed me away. If anything, I was deeply drawn in, entirely taken by the sheer power it had on me emotionally. I'm fairly certain I wasn't the only one; I sensed solemnity in the audience I sat with, the profound feelings of shock, loss, grief, anger, and helplessness. The film projects all that, as if saying, "It's not fair. It shouldn't have to be this way." At the same time, the film also projects profound feelings of resignation, as if saying, "Life isn't fair, and it doesn't matter what should or shouldn't be - that's just the way it is." Perhaps so, but that doesn't make it any easier. This movie haunted me, and I don't mean that I was frightened or repulsed; its themes, its characters, and its plot have a lasting effect, the ability to move us in the most personal of ways.

Adapted from the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro (best known for "The Remains of the Day"), "Never Let Me Go" takes place in an alternate universe, where medical science achieved what was thought to be impossible; in 1952, all previously incurable diseases could be cured, allowing for the average life expectancy to increase to over 100 years by 1967. But how did such a thing happen? The opening title card is intentionally vague on the specifics - all it says is that it was the result of a "medical breakthrough." With that in mind, we plunge into the story proper, which begins in 1978 at Hailsham, a charming-looking but isolated British boarding school surrounded by miles of open fields. The children and teenagers who attend know absolutely nothing of the outside world. They wouldn't dream of leaving; they've all heard horror stories about those who have crossed over the fence.

They've also heard repeatedly from headmistress Miss Emily (Charlotte Rampling) that they're all special. What exactly does this mean? We gradually come to understand, although hints are dropped all throughout the opening section. Consider the fact that every student wears a special bracelet, one they must pass over a mechanical device whenever they reenter the school building. Also consider that every student has no last name other than an initial. And then consider a lecture given by the ever observant Miss Lucy (Sally Hawkins), one in which she sorrowfully explains to the students that, while most children can grow up and be anything they want, they will never be anything; their paths have already been chosen for them. Do the students understand this? They may hear the words, but I imagine it would be difficult for them to fully grasp their meaning, especially when the only world they've ever known has been the grounds of a boarding school.

Emphasis is placed on artistic achievement, specifically poetry, drama, music, and - most importantly - drawing and painting. The best pieces are chosen by an elusive figure known as Madame to be displayed a section of the school called The Gallery. They're encouraged to participate in sports and eat a healthy diet. They earn colored tokens, each having monetary value; every so often, they can use their tokens to buy assorted knick knacks, all delivered to Hailsham via truck.

Three students are introduced: Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy. As adolescents (played by Isobel Meikle-Small, Ella Purnell, and Charlie Rowe respectively), they dutifully engage in strict regiment, although they also develop as individuals, forming a close friendship in spite of the cliques students are often separated by. Kathy is observant and calm. Ruth is bold and opinionated. Tommy is a shy boy who isn't as creatively inclined and is picked on by other boys. As adults in 1985 (played by Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, and Andrew Garfield respectively), tensions rise when they're sent to a residential community that grants them more exposure to the outside world; not only do they not know how to cope in such a place (they're incapable, for example, of deciding for themselves what to order in a restaurant), they're also at odds over their needs and desires, Tommy's physical attraction to Ruth seemingly upstaged by his emotional attraction to Kathy.

The film ends in 1994, at which point Kathy has become a Carer and has been separated from Ruth and Tommy for years. I dare not reveal what a Carer is, nor should I say anything more about Ruth and Tommy, for their fates are too attached to the secret the story revolves around. It's revealed not as a surprise twist but rather as a disturbingly slow unfolding of events, all of which lead to a devastating conclusion. This in itself very easily could have been weepy and melodramatic, but director Mark Romanek and screenwriter Alex Garland instead opted to handle it with a fascinating sense of acceptance - sad, but inescapable, like death. Therein lies the tragedy of "Never Let Me Go"; it's about the certainty of one's existence, the inability to alter the outcome, the painful moments of letting illusions go and facing reality.

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March 05, 2011
I shared your reaction, as if witnessing a death. I feel like I shouldn't talk above a whisper. I was frightened by the story because it is so well told. It could happen *shudder.*
March 27, 2011
I know what you mean. It was a brilliant film.
October 12, 2010
Between and BlackSheep's review, I think I'll temper my expectations; it does sound good but I think I shouldn't expect too much now since it may put in a mood that a movie would be bad because of what I am wishing it to be...Thanks, Chris!
More Never Let Me Go (2010 movie) reviews
review by . March 26, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
A Film That Can Uplift With Its Power Despite The Grim and Cruel Core of its Narrative....
Looking at the film’s title, one wouldn’t be hard-pressed to think that it is a love story; and while it is in its own way, the film has proven to be a lot more than that. Based on the novella with the same name written by Kazuo Ishiguro; the Japanese never cease to amaze me when it comes to themes of remorse, existentialism, life and the way they take a grim premise within a heart-warming execution. This film was directed by Mark Romanek with screenplay by Alex Garland; and it debuted …
review by . April 19, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
No clones for me, period!
This film asks more questions than it attempts to answer, if that’s the premise of the science fiction author, that is. It involves the world of human clones where their existence is purely to provide organ replacements to the “originals”.       Well, based on that, the author then attempt to explore the human side of the clones? Granted, they are as real as the humans and therefore ought to have emotions as they are. Then, the story hints that those who …
review by . March 05, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
28-year old Kathy H. (Carey Mulligan) reminisces about her life, starting in her unique boarding school, Hailsham. The children were raised strictly but well-cared for and raised to know they have a valuable purpose in life. A distressed new teacher tells the children what that purpose is, but it seems they already know and accept it utterly. A childhood love triangle between Kathy and her classmates Ruth and Tommy has a lasting effect on the three; years later as they fulfill their destinies, Kathy …
Quick Tip by . January 04, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
Amazing actors wasting their time in a story that literally undoes itself not just once but twice. I watched it twice just to make sure I didn't have a stroke. Nope, I'm stroke free the movie just sucked despite the best intentions of an amazing cast.
review by . September 25, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Hard to hold
NEVER LET ME GO   Written by Alex Garland   Directed by Mark Romanek   Starring Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield      Famed music video director, Mark Romanek, takes on Kazuo Ishiguro’s much loved and heavily praised novel, NEVER LET ME GO, as his second venture into feature filmmaking.  It is a daring challenge indeed given the underlying questions about the value of human life but Romanek takes the challenge head on.  …
review by . January 02, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
   Never Let Me Go it's one of those adaptations that uses great technical execution in order to cover it's flaws in story's narration. The story revolves around this love and friendship triangle between Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Tommy (Andrew Garfield) and Ruth (Keira Knightley) formed while spending their childhood inside an english boarding school, that would keep the children away from their freedom in order to make them unaware of the true living outside the "fence". …
review by . April 21, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
If I were to pick an “it” girl and boy right now, by which I mean an actress and actor who are receiving media attention and celebrity more for their star potential than for their achievements on the screen thus far, I might pick Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield.  Mulligan caused quite a stir (and rightly so) with her performance in last year’s “An Education;” Garfield drew a lot of attention playing Jesse Eisenberg’s best friend/enemy in “The Social …
Quick Tip by . March 22, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Not sure where to begin with Never Let Me Go. I liked certain aspects of it and yet also was frustrated with its slightly pretentious nature. The main issue I had was that the film tries to achieve some level of sophistication and artistry that it never really managaes to grasp and this is due to the fact that the filmmakers treat the material as if it were really original which it isn't. Right off the bat, we've all seen the youthful love triangle film, the British boarding school …
Quick Tip by . April 19, 2011
Unreal and too many loopholes. If it's not a science fiction and just a drama, it's a little lengthy!
About the reviewer
Chris Pandolfi ()
Ranked #2
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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About this movie


Never Let Me Go
 is an upcoming dystopian drama film based on a novel of the same name written by Kazuo Ishiguro. It is directed by Mark Romanek and stars Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield. Alex Garland wrote the screenplay for the film. The film is produced by DNA Films and Film4. It will premiere at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival, and will open the 54th London Film Festival. It will be distributed theatrically by Fox Searchlight Pictures in the United States on 15 September 2010. In the United Kingdom it will be distributed theatrically on 14 January 2011, by Twentieth Century Fox.
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Screen Writer: Alex Garland, Kazuo Ishiguro
Runtime: 103 minutes
Studio: Fox Searchlight
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