Never Let Me Go is a literary novel with a science fiction twist written by Kazuo Ishiguro in 2005. You can read my review of it here. It takes place in an alternate history where humans are cloned with the sole purpose of eventually giving up their vital organs to save lives. Instead of focusing on the implications of this, the novel focuses on a trio of friends Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy. The book is from Kathy’s POV, and she has a very nostalgic, reflective voice during the book. The narrative spends time on their years at Hailsham Boarding School, the cottages after school, and their time as donors and carers. The book itself won a lot of awards and was received well.
The movie came out in 2010. It was directed by Mark Romanek and adapted to screenplay by Alex Garland. Carey Mulligans plays Kathy, Andrew Garfield plays Tommy, and Keria Knightley plays Ruth. It was nominated for and won a variety of awards at different film festivals.
Some spoilers – ye be warned!
I thought the cinematography and the world this movie was set in fit the book’s tone. The movie was full of subdued colors and everything was very old. I thought the book had a melancholy sort of feel to it, especially because of the subject matter. I liked how even though there were a lot of advances to science, the film wasn’t set in a technologically advanced world, it was set in the 70s and 80s in our own world. Everything was familiar, even though the situations weren’t.
Hailsham was great, how the children were so obedient and the viewers could tell something was a little off. In the end, though, they were just kids, they looked and acted just like normal kids, but they had a much different destiny. I liked the change from the different stages of their lives. Hailsham and the cottages were similar, but then we’re plunged into the clinical settings of the recovery centers and hospitals. It showed the bleakness of their situations.
The mood of the movie was a tad too depressing; it kind of left my husband and I sad. I guess in a way that’s the point.
I think the acting was amazing. I adored all three of these actors. They did a wonderful job with the subject matter they were given. There was a lot of subtext, and I think they did great with that.
I wasn’t too keen on how Ruth was portrayed. In the movie, she just seems like a spiteful, mean girl. Her apology at the end was cool, but she really didn’t look happy when Kathy told her they were going to go ask for a deferral. In the book, Ruth is Kath’s best friend for a reason. She does have veer towards manipulative and condescending behavior, but I felt like I didn’t see their friendship at all in the movie. I was actually wondering why Kath put up with her at all.
Carey Mulligan was very talented at Kath; she really had a lot to accomplish, and she was great. The writing was odd, though. At times during conversation, Kath just wouldn’t say anything, and there would be these weird, awkward pauses. I understand that these characters don’t always say what they’re thinking, but sometimes, the dialogue just seemed stilted.
Andrew Garfield as Tommy – wow. I don’t think anyone who sees this movie will forget his scream at the end. He portrayed Tommy so wonderfully, capturing that childlike innocence as well as his growth to the end.
In general, I really liked what the movie did with Kath and Tommy, but I think they could have made Ruth more likable.
I think a lot of the same themes were present in the movie. The theme of memory wasn’t as strong, of course – while in the book, we jump around from the past to the present in Kath’s mind, the movie is more linear except for a few minutes in the beginning when we see Kath as an adult. But the movie focused a lot on Kath and Tommy’s relationship, which keeps you yearning for things to work out between them.
That sense of mortality and finality is definitely presence in the movie. Kath and the other clones have no choice. Their lives are set out for them, and they just have to make the best of them that they can, like all of us.
What Was Gained
The film producers made a good choice when the decided to make everything linear, unlike the book. While our minds may jump from past to future to present in a matter of minutes, and a reader can follow that in a book, it wouldn’t have been good for a movie. We saw their growth chronologically.
What Was Lost
Like I said earlier, some of the dialogue seemed stilted. Things were awkward, and the movie was pretty slow. I wished there could have been more scenes of them at Hailsham or maybe of Ruth not seeming like a horrible person.
All in all, I loved this movie. I think the way they worked out the cinematography, acting, and everything else really had a way of settling in your bones and making you feel kind of hopeless. And yet, there was distinct moments of beauty in their lives. The sale at Hailsham, Kath and Tommy’s love, Tommy’s drawings, their hope at a deferral, the boat. I think those times made it so much harder in the end, and I think it’s harder for a movie to do that than a book.