Director: Mark Romanek. Starring: Andrew Garfield, Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley. UK, 2010. Budget: $15 million. IMDb: 7.2. My rating: 2/4. A love triangle story in a dystopian society.
– We didn’t have The Gallery in order to look into your souls. We had The Gallery to see if you had souls at all. Do you understand?
There is something deeply weird with “Never Let Me Go”, the third feature film by Mark Romanek. Mostly, it’s the tone. For a story about so sensitive and violent things, everything is told in such a neutral and cold tone that it becomes actually hard to have any feeling towards the film and the characters.
This is exactly what made certain critics and large part of the public praise it so much. Surprising… but understandable. Still, many, like me, were not convinced at all, blaming the film exactly for the neutrality and little credibility of the dystopian world portrayed. Because when you finally take off all the intellectual disguise, the film is not that deep as it wants to be.
In an interview Mark Romanek mentions that one of inspiring concepts while directing the film and finding the right voice for it was mono no aware, the Japanese concept of an empathy towards things, a melancholic observation, a gentle sadness about the impermanence of things. This kind of tone is typical for other Ishiguro’s novels.
It’s difficult to classify the movie as it doesn’t really work well in any of the categories. Formally, it’s a dystopia portraying alternative 70-s, but the main premise is realized in a barely credible way, as it goes against the basic human nature – nobody ever rebels here, there is no drama, no resistance, no tension. Everybody just accepts things as they are, but nothing is ever explained about how the society actually works and how did it get to such a violent point. I remember how I was impressed at time by ”Lobster” that also did not explain a lot the main premise, but it had the main protagonist that was actually searching for his own voice and slowly rebelling. There was a conflict. Even the most meditation-like movies like Tarkovsky’s works have an inner conflict. I love movies where nothing happens. I adore Jim Jarmusch and his late works as well. But here?
”Never Let Me Go” bases its internal conflict not actually on the main premise about donors and cloning (trust me, it’s not a spoiler, if you watch the first 5 minutes carefully), but rather converts itself conveniently into a classic love triangle story, thus causing even more eyebrow-raising. Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield do their best to make the story look passionate (the same can’t be said about Keira Knightley, although here she tries hard to do better than normally, but it’s not their fault that things just don’t work here.
The film is undeniably well shot and technically looks great – one can easy recognize a man with big experience and talent behind it. It’s not the weak point here. The soundtrack is intimate and suits the film well. For those who wonder who is actually Romanek – for sure you have seen one of his music videos, from the mid 80-s onward the American director has been working with all kinds of big artists, from Bowie and Madonna to Nine Inch Nails and Sonic Youth.
Worth watching? Decide by yourself. While the film is undeniably made with love, talent and good intention, it may leave a lot to be desired in terms of credibility and too neutral tone of the story. There is no drama and the spectators are just invited to contemplate the faraway glimpse of other version of our society brought to an extreme since pretty soon the movie concentrated on an intimate love triangle story rather than the delicate and violent main idea.
There’s a lot to praised in the movie – Carey Mulligan is amazing as only she can be, the whole setting is curious and makes interesting parallels (especially to animals). The attempt to follow the neutral mood and the absence of classic good/evil deserve applause, but in the desire of finding the distant tone the film actually forgets about real conflicts and emotions that are unavoidable in a story like this… at least, in the real world. Not in our world.
Watch also: ”Lobster” is undeniably deeper, more interesting and creative story. Or, if you want something big budget and with bang bang – ”The Island”. It’s actually pretty cool.