Mark Romanek’s Never Let Me Go was the best film of 2010, but it didn’t make much of an impression at the box office. Critics were divided on the film, and were also reluctant to talk about the spoilers that are inherent to the story. Carey Mulligan stars as Kathy, who is in love with Tommy (Andrew Garfield), but her best friend Ruth (Keira Knightley) swoops in and starts dating him while they’re in high school. Cathy is too nice to do anything about it, so she’s forced to watch their relationship. Tommy and Cathy seem star-crossed lovers, and the film has a twist to make their separation all the more painful. Raised as children at a private school, their existence is based around a secret that has science fiction complications – a secret some felt shouldn’t be disclosed. Since the film bombed, the review will reveal some of those secrets, and the review of Never Let Me Go on Blu-ray follows after the jump.
The big secret of the movie – which since it’s out now, it should be okay to talk about – is that the main characters in the film are essentially free-range humans who are to be harvested for their organs. The film starts with the three as kids, who grow up and deal with childish attractions and bullying. Their lives seem normal, but then there are rules in place that are strange. They should not smoke. Any injury is treated as a bigger deal. They must check in and out via something in their wrist. They’re taught to fear the outside. And finally a teacher – Miss Lucy (Sally Hawkins) – tells them the truth: They will not live as long as normal people because they are bred to be donors. They are to donate repeatedly until they die. But there are also rumors about how to get deferred. True love. Being a great artist. This might save you.
As children, their mortality is beyond them. When they hit teenage years, Knightley’s Ruth and Garfield’s Tommy are still coupled – which leaves Mulligan’s Cathy the proverbial third wheel. They all hope for longer life, but when they meet other children from different schools they find that they all harbor similar illusions about extended lifetimes. The final third recounts their time as donors, with Cathy acting as a provider (those who help donors go through the donation process), which gives her a couple extra months/year of life. In that time Ruth wants to atone for her sins, and hopefully lead Tommy and Cathy to the love and life she feels she robbed them out of selfishness and bitterness.
Mark Romanek’s film is broken up into these three distinct acts, and each carries a level of melancholy one expects from a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro (Remains of the Day). In some ways this is a variation on the themes of Remains, but in a science fiction setting. The greatness of the film is its theme, which is how so much of time and our lives escape us. Being alive means that there is a clock for all of us – whether we acknowledge it or not – that notes we only have so much time on this Earth. And the film also deals with the old Woody Allen line “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality through not dying” by showing that Tommy hopes for a reprieve from his sentence by being creative. In the end, you’re going to die regardless.
For Romanek, Ishiguro and screenwriter Alex Garland, there is no exit from mortality, there is no Deus Ex Machina for the characters or the audience, nor is there a sense of escape. Many people I’ve talked to have found that a problem with the movie “Why don’t they try to escape?” How do you escape death? For them it is predetermined, but the central conceit/metaphor isn’t about escape, because none of us escape death. What the film exists for is to emphasize how precious life is by contrasting it with the fact that we are born to die. And the film poses the most pointed question of all: Are you living the life you want to? If not what are you doing about it? Everyone makes good and bad decisions. But what I love about this film is that it does what great can do, which is make you think deeply about who you are and how you are. It’s a film that suggests that the banalities that come with everyday life are worth questioning. It’s a film that questions the audience on how they live, love and die. I’m excited by the film’s provocation, and watching it again, I think it’s still one of the best films I have ever seen. It takes my breath away.
Fox’s Blu-ray presents the film in widescreen (2.35:1) and in DTS 5.1 HD. The transfer and soundtrack are immaculate. Extras are limited, though there’s a nice making of called “The Secrets of Never Let Me Go” (30 min.) which talks to Romanek, Garland, Ishiguro and the leads about the film, and they are well aware of what they made, and answers some of the stupid questions some have about the film. This is followed by “Mark Romanek’s On-Set Photography” (3 min.) and “Tommy’s Art” (3 min.). Then comes “National Donor Programme & Hailsham Campaign Graphics” (2 min.), and the film’s theatrical trailer.