by Alastair Hope-Morley
Opening in Hailsham boarding school, Never Let Me Go follows three friends from childhood: Tommy (Andrew Garfield), a vulnerable victim of bullies; Ruth (Keira Knightley), an outwardly confident girl; and Kathy (Carey Mulligan), a quiet observer and the most thoughtful of the three. Kathy develops feelings for Tommy her passive behaviour and inability to pursue her desires means that he ends up with Ruth. The naïve and innocent lives of the characters are contrasted with brash sex scenes, acting to reinforce our sympathy towards Kathy’s despair, both at her heartbreak and, increasingly, at their futile existence.
For entwined within the love triangle is the dark truth of the children’s fate. In a world where life expectancy has exceeded 100 years, a cloning project to farm human clones for their organs has been developed. Hailsham is an initial stage of the project, where idyllic schooldays pose as a contrast to the children’s sad, meaningless lives. The film is successful in creating a terrifying realisation that the donors are conditioned to believe that they do not have a choice in their life and the only way that they can determine their destiny is through the system. Throughout the film and particularly in the final scene, you long for the characters to break free and see the choices they are able to make.
Romanek makes effective use of colour in presenting this existential confusion. The seemingly idyllic world of sunshine and emphasis on lush green fields is contrasted with the cold atmosphere of the blue hospitals where the donations are made. And when we see interactions of the teachers and deliverymen with the children, the awkwardness of these people, who despite benefitting from the clones cannot come to terms with their humanity, is a reflection of how effectively our society constructs systems that distance us from the consequences of our poor ethics.
The film’s foundation is the believable relationship between Kathy and Tommy. The narrative is arguably contrived, but in my view it reinforces the key elements. This is a story about being trapped, a story of being a prisoner from the moment you enter this world. Never Let Me Go is constantly sad, but constantly brilliant.