Based on Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel, which was voted by TIME as the best book of the past decade, Never Let Me Go is a tale, a love story of three friends: Kathy, Ruth and Tommy. We observe and follow their lives, from Kathy’s point of view, from their childhood at Hailsham, an English boarding school, to their adult lives, fulfilling the path laid out for them. I will not explain anymore, for to give away anything else would be a waste and injustice to the story. Let’s just say it is a shocking revelation.
It is slow paced. But it is reflective, it is meditative. It is beautiful, gorgeous to look at. And it is tragic. It brings tears to your eyes. It is a story revolving around a question of human morality and the existence of souls, and love, and losses. Reading the novel, I never fully grasped what Ishiguro wanted to convey. But through the film, things were made clearer, and it is heartbreaking when you eventually realise.
The performances I don’t even need to describe. Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, Andrew Garfield are three shining young lights in an often bastardised film industry. Garfield plays the shy Tommy who lacks confidence, while Knightley has the more difficult role of Ruth, headstrong and stubborn, yet guilty. But it is Mulligan who shines the brightest, as I knew she would. I am amazed every time I see her on screen. I fell in love with her charming demeanour in An Education (read my review here). In Never Let Me Go, she gives no reason for us to fall for her, but she gives plenty of reason for us to mourn for her situation, for the tragic turn of events that occur and await her in the future. She has the ability to draw audiences to be on her side, and we gladly sympathise with her.
The young actors and actresses who portrayed the three friends during their childhood must be applauded, especially Isobel Meikle-Small, who played Kathy’s younger self and looks uncannily like Mulligan! But the transition works remarkably well and Mulligan brings it a step forward. In her eyes you can see utter desolation, for she is well aware of her harsh fate and has fully accepted it, and this is why she does not cry. Yet, you easily sense a longing… a false hope even for something more, for true love that had escaped her for so many years… yet when she is driven back down into hopelessness and she finally breaks, she does not bawl – the few tears that slowly drip down her face are painful and excruciating because there is a soul that has lost everything. I believe it is only Carey Mulligan who is capable of executing such delicate expressions and conveyance of emotions. Tommy, on the other hand, breaks down hysterically, bawling and howling. It is one of the most powerful scenes of the entire film, of two people embracing in the middle of the road, engulfed in complete despondence.
Yet what is left at the end are memories, not all fun, but all deeply rooted in Kathy’s mind as she sets off; it’s all she can do. And she remembers the small taste of love, short-lived but sweet, and we mournfully watch her venture off, knowing her fate, applauding her courage and huge heart. Such poignancy conveyed in beauty. I was, and still am overwhelmed by the film, and I suspect this is a complex feeling that will last for a very long time as my mind continues to grapple with the tough, challenging questions relating to human morality. One of the most beautiful and heart-wrenching films I have seen.
NOTE: I recommend you read the novel before watching the film. If not, you might get bored and even fall asleep (I saw this tragedy happening in the cinema). The background knowledge will help you to fully appreciate both the novel and film.