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Never Let Me Go

United Kingdom 2011
Directed by
Mark Romanek
103 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Andrew Lee
4.5 stars

Never Let Me Go

Synopsis: Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Ruth (Keira Knightley) and Tommy (Andrew Garfield) all grew up together at Hailsham, a boarding house in the English countryside. Now adults, they look back to their time there and the horrors that lie ahead.

Never Let Me Go appears, on the surface, to be a typical quaint English film in the Merchant-Ivory vein. All the marketing is pushing that line but that is a mistake. It’s not some bittersweet drama, it’s a bleak and horrific alternate history of a world in which science has made breakthroughs in medicine that mean life expectancy is increased and diseases once thought incurable are now treatable. And it does this through the eyes of three children who grow to adulthood within this brave new world.

Back in the 1960’s, a new breed of science fiction novelist emerged that called themselves the “New Wave”. New Wave SF was concerned with what they named Inner Space, the effect on the psyche and on society of technological advances. They adapted the tropes of SF to allow a deeper examination of what it meant to be human. Never Let Me Go is a continuation of that tradition as it follows the basic love triangle of Kathy, Tommy and Ruth inside the odd world they inhabit. Their relationships ground a story of a world that in its thirst for life has sacrificed its humanity.

The most interesting aspect however, is the slow deconstruction of belief. In his introduction to the script of Sunshine, Alex Garland talked about how he fell out with Danny Boyle over the subtext of that film. Garland believed he had written a film about how we’re alone in the universe. Boyle thought he was making a film about people touching the divine. Garland was deeply unhappy with that experience but here he’s managed to find a fellow traveler in director Mark Romanek. Together, they pick apart how people in extreme situations create beliefs for themselves that help them hope for a better future. Yet the way that they then savage these beliefs here is both gut-churning and poignant, and the moment that the characters come to understand their self-deception and are left totally bereft will leave you in tears.

I love the ideas at play in this film, but I feel I should be deliberately vague about their execution. Part of what makes Never Let Me Go such a striking experience is the slow and steady reveal of the true nature of the situation. Smart viewers will work out the basics immediately (and it’s explained in detail about midway through the film), but it’s the exploration of the idea that takes this to another level entirely. The questions asked, and more importantly the questions that go unasked, make this a powerful emotional experience.

This is the best science fiction film since Alfonso Cuarón’s Children Of Men (2006). With brilliant performances and flawless direction, Never Let Me Go is one of the finest films I’ve seen in years and one of the best examples of New Wave Science Fiction yet to grace the screen.




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