Never Let Me Go, a touching love story with a twist, came out on Blu-ray this week. Audiences are in for few surprises, one of them being the emotional punch of this artistic sci fi film. It’s an atmospheric tale of love and betrayal set in an alternate reality where sickness has all been eradicated, thanks to the benefits of human cloning.
The story follows three children in a seemingly normal boarding school in England. Kathy, played with superb gentleness by relative newcomer Carey Mulligan, is a thoughtful, quiet girl. She has a stillness about her, a soulfulness. Ruth is played with refreshing homeliness by Keira Knightley. She is a rather silly girl, easily swayed but with a vulnerability under her weakness. She and Kathy are friends, though their differences in temperaments keep the friendship tenuous. Andrew Garfield plays Tommy, the outcast. Garfield is another relative newcomer that audiences will hear a lot about in the next year as he appears in both The Social Network and will play Peter Parker in the next Spider-Man. Awkward and shy, Tommy’s only light is the kindness Kathy shows him.
As the film progresses, audiences realize that Hailsham isn’t a normal boarding school, and these aren’t normal children. They may feel and act and look like normal children, but they are clones whose only purpose is to grow up and donate their organs to the normal people. That doesn’t stop them from loving, and from being kind or cruel, or from knowing their fate. What may strike audiences is the childlike docility of the clones. They find out their fate, and while hoping to gain even a few extra years of life, they don’t run away from it or try to change the system. Though bleak at times, the film’s beautiful and lonely landscapes are haunting. The story is tragic, but thought-provoking, and it leaves audiences contemplating the nature of man and mortality.
Part of the resonance of this film is the tragic feeling of mortality. The fleeting aspects of life and love are intensified in the film’s main characters, three human clones who audiences watch grow up into adults, only to end up “completing” before 30 years of age. All the clones live only to “complete,” that is to grow up and then have their major organs harvested until they can no longer live. Sometimes a clone survives four or even five of these operations. Sometimes they “complete” after one.
Based on the moving novel by Kazuo Ishiguro of the same title, Never Let Me Go tells a beautiful, if tragic, love story. Director Mark Romanek wanted to tell a love story above other themes found in the book concerning the ethics and morality of cloning, and the existence of the soul. What may strike audiences about this film is that, while technically a sci fi movie, it doesn’t feel like a sci fi movie.
In the interview I had with Romanek last September, the director said that while the book is a sci fi, he never really thought of the story in that way. Instead he wanted to tell the love story. Screenwriter Alex Garland helped bring Ishiguro’s story to life on the big screen. Garland admired Ishiguro’s work, and Ishiguro and Romanek both wanted Garland to be the one to translate the delicate tale of Never Let Me Go. Garland made a name for himself with his own novel, The Beach (made into a movie with Leonardo DiCaprio), and he also wrote the screenplay for two of greatest indie horror movies, 28 Days Later and Sunshine.
The Blu-ray, probably mirroring the film’s underperformance when it came out in theatres, is light on extras. The only one worth checking out is a 30-minute featurette called “The Secrets of Never Let Me Go.” The featurette is good, even if it is the only extra. It has interviews with director Mark Romanek, most of the cast, even novelist Ishiguro and screenwriter Garland. It shows behind the scenes footage, stills, and discussion on many topics relating to the concept of the film and story. A very interesting 30 minutes.
The audio found here is top quality. Like the delicate emotions in Never Let Me Go, Rachel Portman’s haunting score falls gently behind the action of the film. The orchestral themes, gentle and tragic, play to their full effect with the high quality of the Blu-ray. Dialogue is well defined and always clear, never fuzzy or drowned out.
Video also gets top marks. As an artistic film, the visuals play as big a part as some of the characters. Romanek carefully chose the colors and arrangement in every scene, creating a story through the look and feel of the sets. This Blu-ray doesn’t disappoint, with a crisp clarity that lets every poignant metaphor show through. The soft lighting and gentle cinematography look as good as they did on the silver screen. Colours look natural and flesh tones, for the most part, were accurate. Spot on contrast is found throughout and the film carries a very polished look.
Never Let Me Go performed poorly at the box office and is yet another example of a beautiful, artistic film being overlooked by mainstream America. Now that it’s out on Blu-ray, audiences have the opportunity to appreciate it in the privacy of their own homes (since there may be some tears). Go out and pick this one up, I think you’ll be very pleased with it.
Check out our interview with director Mark Romanek here.
Never Let Me Go features a novel premise, strong acting throughout and a beautiful score.