While watching some films during awards season, I start to imagine the conversations I will have with people after the movie is over. There are always a ton of films released in the fall and winter months as Oscar bait that are beautiful, well made, thought provoking movies. The question I always hate is the inevitable, “Was it good?” For a film like Never Let Me Go, that’s not a simple question to answer.
Based on the 2005 novel of the same name written by acclaimed author Kazuo Ishiguro, the story is a dystopian sci-fi drama set in an England where scientists have discovered how to clone humans. As a result the average life span quickly approaches 100 years old, but the question quickly becomes what do you do with the clones? Are they human, do they feel, should you even ask too many questions because with too many questions comes the sticky question of, “Do they deserve rights”?
The film opens at Hailsham, the boarding school where Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Tommy (Andrew Garfield), and Ruth (Keira Knightley) grow up and are taught by their teachers, all while being watched by their headmistress Miss Emily (Charlotte Rampling). The children are given a proper education, but are also kept within the boundaries of the school at all times. It is never directly said why during the film, but considering that even after the kids learn what their true fates in life are they never seem to consider escaping their future, they are indoctrinating the youth to accept what is given to them and be at peace with it. The children are raised on a steady diet of vegetables and exercise to keep their bodies healthy at all times. In a sly bit of art direction, the vegetables are the most colorful things in the first half of the movie, showing that the government cares more about what goes into these “things” bodies than what goes on them or what they actually lie or sit on.
Once the kids become young adults, they are told the truth. They were created to donate organs. They will donate no less than four times, at which point they will complete (die). As the story progresses we pick up more details, such as how when the cloning program began the government naturally went to the extreme lower class to take genetic samples with which to make the clones. They’re not going to cut the liver and right eye out of the clone of Katie Couric, are they? Also, as a result of harvesting the clones organs, all cancer is now treatable so smoking is rampant.
The actors all put in wonderful performances. Andrew Garfield (The Social Network) continues his career year, while Carey Mulligan (Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps) proves that the only way to get a bad showing out of her is to put Oliver Stone behind the camera. Two actresses in particular put in award caliber performances. Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky) appears for only a few moments during the film as a teacher while the students are still young. She is the first adult who attempts to tell the children what they truly are and what they will be used for in the future. We never see her again after this scene and we are left to guess what happened to her.
I have wrestled with how to judge Keira Knightley‘s (Atonement) performance. For the first three quarters of the film, I honestly felt that the role of Ruth was beneath Knightley’s talents and she was left playing, what boils down to basically, the mean girl. I honestly was sitting in the theater wondering if she only signed on because she was a fan of the book or a friend of the director. Then in the final quarter a switch is thrown and it becomes clear why she took this part; because it ends up being one of the best of her career. Truly devastating.
At the beginning of this, I said the question of whether this is a good film or not is hard to answer. While I have praised the performances, there is no other reason to recommend watching the film. Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo) is one of those directors that you hear people describe as a talent that just needs that one hit, but I have never seen anything justifying the hype he gets. He should thank the deity of his choice that he chose a popular novel with strong female roles in it that had Oscar-bait written all over it. If this doesn’t make its budget back, his next flick might star one of the Simpson sisters, and it’s a little harder to pull a good performance out of them Marky.
If you go this weekend, be prepared. It’s depressing, so don’t bother buying popcorn. Go to a matinee, because who wants to pay full price just to leave bummed out. Oh, and take your girlfriend or wife, because you don’t want your buddy to see you crying like a little girl.
Watch the Never Let Me Go Movie Trailer