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2 reviews, 9 user ratings

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Never Let Me Go
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by Jay Seaver

"Science fiction so good people call it something else."
5 stars

"Never Let Me Go" is the sort of science fiction that tends to hide its genre or go by another name - "speculative fiction" or "slipstream" - because it wants to associate itself with a different audience. Science fiction is considered to be stories about gadgets and things, while this work is about people, and relationships, and ideas. It's a false distinction, but even if one buys into it, all of the best science fiction has been about ideas, and this one is about people treated as things.

In its world, organ transplants became much safer much earlier, and cloning was apparently mastered not long after Crick and Watson discovered the double helix. Thus, by the late 1970s, Britain's National Donor Program has facilities of various types scattered around the country. Hailsham looks like a boarding school, but its charges have no parents to go home to. Three children on the cusp of adolescence are brought into focus: Tommy (Charlie Rove), a volatile but sensitive boy; Kathy (Isobel Meikle-Small), a curious young girl who finds herself attracted to him; and Ruth (Elle Purnell), her best friend. It's Tommy and Ruth who eventually pair off, though, and as they grow up and are moved to "The Cottages" to await their first "treatments", Kathy (now played by Carey Mulligan) opts to train as a "Carer". The three go their separate ways, until Kathy meets Ruth (Keira Knightley), who suggests they reunite with Tommy (Andrew Garfield) while they can.

Director Mark Romanek, novelist Kazuo Ishiguro, and screenwriter Alex Garland set the story in an alternate history rather than the future, and the speculative elements are all the chillier for it. A potential future, after all, is something that we can avoid; this world is so familiar that it feels like the way that the twentieth century would have inevitably run with those key differences in medical science. The world-building is deceptively meticulous - we hear little technical jargon and few details that the audience could trip on, but the details of the clones' lives at Hailsham and after always ring true. They cheat a little, perhaps, by having characters take note of their unusual psychology, but they also sneak things in that show that the world isn't standing still, and as horrible as the idea of Hailsham is, the setting implies things that are even worse.

All this detail which meshes almost perfectly is what ultimately makes the tragic and romantic storylines so poignant; we know not just that these characters' lives are extremely likely to be cut short, but that the world they live in has likely been set up with the express intention of stunting them socially in many ways, so that they won't be confused with "real people". And yet, the human urge to connect and love cannot be denied; their love may not be greater for how doomed it is, but it is, perhaps, more remarkable.

As much as the filmmakers build that world, it's up to the cast to build its inhabitants, and they do that very well indeed. Carey Mulligan and Isobel Meikle-Small between them make for one of the most seamless handoffs of a character from child to adult actress; they both show us a girl with too much empathy for the world she lives in. Meikle-Small and especially Mulligan show us this empathy and intelligence developing into a sad wisdom, perfectly expressed both in disembodied voice-over and silent consideration. Andrew Garfield's Tommy is in many ways Kathy's complement, bursting with emotion and passion but very much not clever. Garfield shows us a man who accepts his unfair position in the world because he's very pointedly not equipped to see it as unjust. In some ways, that actually makes Tommy more well-adjusted than some of the others, and Garfield makes him pitiable without making him pitiful. Knightley, meanwhile, gets to initially play their opposite, making Ruth harsh and even vicious at times, a needed counter to Kathy's mopiness. Even when she is pushing Kathy down, though, we see the desperation to her, which serves to make some of her meaner moments more palatable - she is human, after all.

There's a good supporting cast, too, from the actors playing the younger versions of the characters to the people with one line as the deliverymen. Andrea Riseborough and Domhnall Gleeson are quite good as another pair of Donors, as well. Then there's Sally Hawkins as Miss Lucy, playing the new teacher at Hailsham like a child just learning the connection between the hamburger she's eating and the friendly cow at the farm. Charlotte Rampling is briefly fantastic as the school's headmistress, presiding over the school like a stern gargoyle, and though she doesn't soften in her later appearances, there's a weariness to her that isn't quite guilt.

It's all brought together in nearly perfect fashion, a character-based bit of science fiction brimming with unsettling ideas and excellent performances. The total package is one of the year's best movies, regardless of what genre labels are applied to it.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=20790&reviewer=371
originally posted: 11/03/10 00:03:38
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Telluride Film Festival For more in the 2010 Telluride Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2016 Boston SciFi Film Festival For more in the 2016 Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

11/30/15 brian C'mon, did anyone actually believe these characters were in love? Really!? 2 stars
11/27/13 Shaun A Slow but beautiful examination of our place in life. 5 stars
8/22/11 hurdy gurdy man What never let me go was porous premise - how bout 2 tickets out of Dodge. 2 stars
7/16/11 Annie G Book must be wonderful, for this mediocre movie to have been made. 3 stars
6/08/11 Simon Along w/searing introspection of key human/metaphysical ?s,a grippingly poignant love story 5 stars
11/09/10 j werleigh a haunting and beautifully melancholy film 5 stars
10/22/10 C Forte Wow. It will stay with you. Most underrated movie so far this year. 4 stars
10/18/10 Lenore Francois Interesting concept, but falls short on execution. 3 stars
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  15-Sep-2010 (R)
  DVD: 01-Feb-2011


  DVD: 01-Feb-2011

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