Sunday, January 16, 2011

Never Let Me Go ***½

Director: Mark Romanek
Cast: Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, Keira Knightley
Andrea Riseborough, Sally Hawkins, Charlotte Rampling

Never Let Me Go begins with a title card that reveals we're about to take a trip to a past that never existed. One where human beings had finally found a way to cure disease and life expectancy had grown to 100 years.
This past also meant a different route had been taken and some had obviously suffered; however, we almost immediately understand that this isn't an exploration of the ethical rules and alternate history that shaped this events but merely a snapshot of a few lives trapped in it.
The scene then changes to Hailsham school, a seemingly idyllic boarding school where quite simply, clones were raised to donate organs during their adulthood.
Twenty-nine year old Kathy (Mulligan) narrates her own story, first within the confines of Hailsham and later in the "outer world". We see how as a child (played seamlessly by Isobel Meikle-Small) she develops a crush on the introverted Tommy (Charlie Rowe) and how, after they learn about the nature of their existence (in a perfect scene with a devastating Hawkes), their lives only seem to take a minor twist, as Kathy's friend Ruth (Knightley) begins a romantic relationship with Tommy.
Why the plot focuses more on the friends and not the secret they've just learned about their fates is one of the many things that make this such an enigmatically, beautiful piece.
Director Mark Romanek shoots Alex Garland's screenplay (based on Kazuo Ishiguro's novel) with the utmost trust in that there is an entire universe contained in what we are not seeing.
The matter of fact-ness with which these young people embrace the source of their existence is so unromantic that we are forced to wonder if we shouldn't in fact envy them, for they have already solved dilemmas that have plagued human kind since its start?
Where are we going? Where do we come from? Why are we here? Because of Romanek's precise hand and elegant formalism we see the characters' reactions as something that just couldn't have been any other way. These people have not been raised in the same way the rest of society was.
This makes it absolutely fascinating to watch as they try to fit in the world they only know through horror stories and eventually through duty. The cast does a terrific job in creating all these subtleties that don't entirely give them away but help establish the fact that they aren't as the others.
Knightley for example, seems to always hesitate before she does something. This hesitation is minimal and the actress disguises it beautifully giving us just enough. The plot may sometimes try to turn her into a villainous creature, or an antagonist to be more precise but because of the actress' committal to the role we see that this is just her nature.
Same with Garfield, whose contained performance doesn't really scream "romantic lead" but his quiet grace makes for something irresistible in the context.
In one of their best scenes together we see Tommy and Ruth have sex, as she acts like someone she must've seen on a movie, he covers his face unsure as to how he should be acting.
It's strange and somewhat off-putting that the filmmakers never really try to make us "understand" what's going on. We get a grasp that there's an entire hierarchy at work and that there must be harrowing stories to be told about these clones, yet by choosing to concentrate on these three characters we are being made part of the society that's beyond Hailsham.
As Ruth, Kathy and Tommy begin to get entangled in their very own way of love and survival, and the mood becomes more quietly moving and not macabre, we realize that this isn't a film about clones, it's a metaphor about existence itself.
Therefore Ishiguro, Garland and Romanek have gotten away with telling us the story about our own existences and making us believe we're watching something completely external. Once we begin to think about this, we are moved to explore if there is anything really natural about the things around us.
Is love, for example, a game we invent just to keep ourselves entertained while we await our demise? Do we not too sometimes stop fighting against a fate we have determined has been written in stone for us?
The movie's themes are embodied beautifully by Carey Mulligan's performance. Through her simple performance we realize that the fact she accepts her fate with such resignation makes the film's events all the more heartbreaking.
And it's ironic that the film should even result moving when everything about it is so sterile and distant.
Then it clicks on us, nothing in the movie is heartfelt because how could it be? When a heart is something that can be so easily extracted from us at any time.


Candice Frederick said...

wow. sounds like apowerful film. i will give this carey mulligan girl another try :)

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

This one still strikes me as pretty and hollow although I'm with you 100% on Knightley and how much she attempts to make the character fuller than it's written. I get that they're trying not to sensationalise the state of affairs, by making it seem so normal but burying it in a very bland love story just doesn't work for me.

Jose said...

Candice: it was. I think people didn't really give it a chance though. It's a very underrated film.

Andrew: you shouldn't diss bland love stories, considering how much you love Anthony Minghella. One of the things I liked best about "Cold Mountain" was how the love story was an excuse, both for the characters and the film, to speak of bigger themes. The movie is never really romantic but using the idea of love they explore so much more.
I wasn't ever convinced by Kathy and Tommy's love here but their insistence in it gives the film its "soul" so to speak.