Review: Never Let Me Go (2010)
Note: This post contains a portion of a review originally written for CaryCitizen. To read the full review, click here.
If the purpose of art is to examine the human condition, few films have achieved that this year more admirably than Never Let Me Go, a dystopian melodrama set in 1970s Britain. Moviegoers be warned: this one’s a tearjerker. And yet, unlike many dramas that rely on over-sentimentality and an oppressive score to manipulate an audience’s emotions, this is a film that earns every ounce of its emotional resonance through the sheer strength of its ideas and direction. Its themes are universal and its ambitions are lofty, but somehow it pulls it off without feeling over-stuffed or pretentious. No matter what the Academy ultimate decides come nomination time, I think it’s safe to say with its wide release this past weekend that Oscar season has officially begun.
Based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, on the surface Never Let Me Go is about three friends who grow up attending an English boarding school called Hailsham. Kathy (Carey Mulligan) is a smart, introverted girl who has a crush on Tommy (Andrew Garfield). But her best friend, the loud and impulsive Ruth (Keira Knightley) also has eyes for the young boy. The film chronicles twenty years in their lives as they deal with the pains of adolescence, fall in and out of love, and come to grips with their own mortality.
While that might sound like a pretty straightforward or even boring premise, Never Let Me Go is much more than a coming-of-age tale about a group of teenagers. There is a key element that adds a dark layer of foreboding to what would otherwise be an average teen melodrama. Despite the fact that it’s hinted at in the marketing, mentioned by the vast majority of reviews, and explicitly revealed within the first 20 minutes, I won’t spoil the conceit that the film’s plot hinges on. Suffice to say, it takes what appears to be an ordinary English period piece and turns it into a chilling work of science fiction with elements of macabre horror.