***** 5 stars
Many reviewers have quibbled over the revelation of the "twist" that comes much sooner in the movie than the book, but I think that's nonsense. What works in a novel would often appear slow and dull in a movie. If anything, I think it helps engage those viewers who come into the film with a naivete not unlike the characters in the film. That being said, I'm not about to ruin the surprise for anyone!
"Never Let Me Go" is the story of Kathy (Carey Mulligan); or really the story of how she grew up at a boarding school, Hailsham, and the close friends who share her journey in both body and soul. Ruth (Keira Knightly) has been her best friend since they were children, however she is an unusually spoiled girl who takes advantage of Kathy's kindness. In the middle of all this is Tommy (Andrew Garfield) who goes with Ruth while secretly longing for Kathy. The story is entirely from Kathy's perspective though we at no point doubt the sincerity of her narration. Separated for years, she reunites with Tommy, but is it too late?
The beauty of the book, and indeed the movie as well, is that while the subject matter may be science-fiction the actions are incredibly realistic. Book shelves and movie houses view sci-fi as something involving aliens or supernatural powers (clearly fantasy). It seems most of what you find is now Fantasy, with Science Ficiton going the way of the buffalo (or a Philip K Dick novela). Wikipedia defines science fiction as "dealing with the impact of imagined innovations in science or technology, often in a futuristic setting. It differs from fantasy in that, within the context of the story, its imaginary elements are largely possible within scientifically established ... laws of nature". It is in this truest sense of the word that "Never Let Me Go" resides. I can't imagine seeing it in video stores sharing the same space as "2001: A Space Odyssey" or "Star Trek". Instead, it focuses on the reality and questionable humanity of science and human beings.
Mark Romanek's primary art is music video and it is with that knowledge that he captures the subtle emotions that his actor's give him. Where other director's may be more comfortable with quick cuts or master shots, Romanek lingers. He creates truly unsettling images of nothing more than a face, albeit a face in pain. The soundtrack is sparse and subtly supports the loneliness our characters feel.
Mulligan and Garfield give subtle and pained performances that are certainly deserving of nominations come award season. In a particularly brilliant scene, the trio embark on a road trip to see an old ship stranded on the beach. Tommy has never lost the curiosity of his youth and runs to the ship while Kathy and Ruth watch. He crawls over the bow all gangly arms and legs; pausing only to catch his breath, grinning from ear to ear. In the context of the film, the scene becomes even more haunting as the inevitability of their situation bares down on both them and the viewer.
Although I had read the book and therefore knew what the outcome of the story would be, I found myself close to bawling towards the end of the film. I can't remember the last night a movie effected me on such a primal level. In particular, I think I began to lose it when Kathy and Tommy, now together, search for a way to maintain their relationship in the face of certain desolation. It's impossible not to be moved. I loved this movie, but I'm afraid to watch it again. The next time I won't be in a packed movie theatre with the shame and embarrassment of actually crying out loud to keep me in check. It's a pain that feels so good yet is scary as hell. On the path to "completion", what is our purpose?
I would recommend this movie to any and everyone. It is a landmark in cinema as the book was to the publishing world. Dealing with universal themes of growing up, falling in and out of love, living up to responsibilities, and the acceptance of fate; it is sure to cause a cavalcade of emotion in any view. Bring a tissue. Actually, make that three or four.