Unusually low-key sci-fi.
"I'll never Know
When It's my Time to Go
One Thing I know fo' sho'
That you Will Never Ever Let me Go
Never ever let me go."
We've had a wave of pre-teen and teen longing this year, most notably Twilight, less so Let Me In, and now surprisingly the non-vampire Never Let Me Go. Although this impressively underplayed film is soft science fiction without Frankenstein flourishes, it is pre-eminent in its ability to evoke the authenticity of youthful desire even in the face of a conceit that has the principal characters as organ donors created for that purpose.
While I have read the novel on which this exemplary film is based, by Kazuo Ishiguro, I will not slip into the trap of comparing the two different media, film and novel. I will leave that ill-advised comparison by commenting the film follows the novel closely.
Kathy H (Carey Mulligan), a gentle donor from early on in British private grade school loves Tommy (Andrew Garfield) while Ruth (Keira Knightly) steals him from her. As the three grow up to face their fate (they were "modeled" to become donors; "cloned" is never used), they may have a chance to delay the donations by a few years if they can prove they are truly in love. Along the way, narrator Kathy matures into a "carer' (one who attends to donors for a period before her donation begins), and a good one at that.
The understated dialogue emphasizes the humanity of these characters rather than the more sensational harvesting mechanism. Even that notion is arguable given their artificial origin. Indeed, their private school, Hailsham, holds a regular art fair that collects the children's work to assess their souls, or so the scarily obedient children think.
The quiet, subtle Never Let Me Go reminds me of the Twilight Zone series, not the Twilight series. In this film rest truths about human longing, love, sacrifice and betrayal, heightened by the weird sci-fi underpinning, but as in the best of fictive storytelling, highlighting the complexity of the human experience.
What you can be sure of is that director Mark Romanek, writer Alex Garland, and novelist Ishiguro want the allegory to be relevant and believable, which it is. The boundless human capacity for love and hope is resoundingly present in the test-tube babies.
Lesson learned: Live life fully while you can.