Resigned to Mortality
What makes Never Let Me Go unique is not necessarily its premise, but the way this film handles it. The story takes place in an alternate past, when in the late 20th century sicknesses have been eradicated and lifespans have been increased due to a certain science fiction scenario like the one in movies such as The Island. In most stories like these, the natural path would be for some of the "victims" to discover the truth and then fight for their lives. Here, however, our main protagonists know the truth, which is not kept secret, and simply follow along the path laid out for them in a kind of resigned acceptance.
Resignation appears to be the key attitude of the movie. It's embodied by Kathy (Isobel Meikle-Small as a child, Carey Mulligan as an adult -- dead ringers), who suffers from an unrequited love for her friend Tommy (Charlie Rowe as a child, Andrew Garfield as an adult). When Tommy seems to be attracted to Kathy's best friend Ruth (Ella Purnell as a child, Keira Knightley as an adult -- they don't even look similar!), Kathy doesn't make waves. Her reaction could barely even qualify as being passive-aggressive. She just accepts the circumstances and does the best she can with the limited life she's been given.
Of course, there are other developments, but Never Let Me Go unfolds them calmly; it's about as low key as a movie can get. It gives the sense that most of life isn't about fighting against the system; rather, it's in being comfortable with the knowledge of your limitations (internal and extrenal) while understanding that such knowledge may lead to a lot of repressed pain. In a way, although it feels illogical, it's almost a more realistic take on this kind of science fiction premise -- most of us don't rebel, we just keep quiet and accept certain daily sufferings as blunt-sensational facts of life.
The rest of Never Let Me Go revels in a simplicity that appears to be reaching for the profound, though it can't quite make it. Director Mark Romanek endows his film with a consistently somber mood while searching for shots of lingering, quiet, sad beauty, giving it a subdued, haunting tone. But it's almost too subdued, too simple, and makes us feel that the film wants to be moving, but isn't going to try to make us ache. As a love story, the movie is patient and reiterates the tragedy of love living at the mercy of time. As a science fiction story, it retreads the ground where emotional beings of non-normal origins make the case for having souls. And yet Never Let Me Go does attain a certain level of mature peace with the fact of mortality and the potential any lifetime contains. For a movie with such a passive personality, that may be just right.
(Released by Fox Searchlight Pictures and rated "R" for some sexuality and nudity.)
Review also posted at www.windowtothemovies.com.