Since we already have a stellar review of Never Let Me Go from Lauren, and since it’s a film that demands a bit more investigation, there’s nothing like a list of things liked and things not liked in order to get all the thoughts straight.
The film saw a limited release (and was one of the Secret Screenings at Fantastic Fest), but it never made it beyond the coastal markets. Still, it promises to have at least some sort of presence during awards season and DVD and Blu-ray will give even more people the opportunity to see it.
Without further ado, here are the 10 things I liked about it, and the 5 I didn’t.
Things I Liked
10. The Haunt – For a film that lacks a certain hammer-strong impact, it sticks around and follows you like a shadow whispering in your ear about your own doom long after. It’s an incredible effect (one that probably wouldn’t have been possible with a more intense film), and the result is a personal Memento Mori calmly connecting you to the main characters, and their fates, in a sincerely unnerving way.
9. We Are the Kids at Hailsham – These children with half a future in front of them, they seem pathetic in their entire existence. Something sub-human. But it’s only by comparison. We all get the time allotted to us on this Earth, whether it be 10 years or 100, and the final monologue slams that message home with abundant clarity. Feel sorry for the figures on the screen? Then feel sorry for yourself.
8. The Inevitable – Tied to the previous entry, the inevitability of what faces the children at Hailsham is something terrible and awe-filled. It is the promise of death – in some ways a noble death, but death nonetheless. It’s fascinating that something as severe as that is treated in perhaps the only rational way possible: cold, honest acceptance.
7. The Lack of the Revolt - In any other Dystopian film there would be a leader rising up against the horrific system in place, taking Scarlett Johansson by the hand, and avoiding the explosions. That’s not this story. This is the story of every other group before that moment. It might be frustrating to see these humans shuffled off to their fate, but it’s a more troubling tale because the revolution never comes.
6. Flawed People - The characters here are well-rounded because we get a sense of their insecurities, their failures, and their opportunities for redemption and damnation. This is another way in which Dystopian convention is bucked, as normally the people within the system would be flattened and robotic from years of oppression. It’s refreshing to see a story about the oppressed realistically told by maintaining its humanity.
5. Outstanding Performances – There’s not a bad or “just good” performance in the entire bunch. Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, and Keira Knightley all deliver with the help of some incredibly strong supporting roles.
4. Picture Perfection - Mark Romanek’s eye has been proven time and again. He outpaces himself with the sheer beauty – especially the blend of natural environments with an underlying science fiction mentality – of every single frame. It’s all fragile and crying out for help, displaying the raw perfection of nature and the truth that sometimes that perfection is not a happy one.
3. The Ambiguity – There are several elements – the art show, the beginning of the program, the appeal of finding your human counterpart – that exist with varying degrees of ambiguity. Even when some elements are explained, they are never totally accounted for, and that gives the film a lot of power to exist without tone-ruining exposition. Plus, we are more than capable of filling in the gaps with our own theories.
2. A Walker and a Long Hallway – Even if Keira Knightley’s character is an insecure wreck who sees fit to steal happiness from others, there are few scenes as powerful as watching her young frame hobble down the hallway in that walker.
1. The Humor – Movies that are 100% bleakness are 1) a chore to watch and 2) completely unrealistic. This movie understands that you have to display the joy of life in order to appreciate the depression of its loss.
What I Didn’t
5. Imagery As Motion – The look of the film is breathtakingly rural (which gives a sense of isolation), but it too often relies on those images to provide a momentum that doesn’t come.
4. A Lack of Attack - The revolution never comes, which is a ballsy and brilliant move, but there’s also little in the way of an emotional assault. The main focal point is the love triangle, but when the relationship falls apart, there’s a sort of cold indifference to it that makes little sense.
3. Passive Characters – On the same front, Tommy and Ruth split up right around the time that Kathy is beginning her training. Her priorities have changed, which is find, but there’s certainly still an aching there that needs to be fixed. In fact, the film addresses it later on as the redemption for Ruth. There are too many opportunities where the characters display strength and self-interest for the other opportunities (the ones that truly matter) to be dealt with so passively.
2. Second Act Lag – The first act does its best to give us the upbringing and roots of the children we’ll see later as adults, but the second act seems like an outpost on the road toward the story instead of feeling like part of the story itself. It’s all summed up by a quick voice over that bleeds into the third act, and when you can sum up the sequence in a few lines, it’s a bad sign.
1. That Something Missing – I didn’t read the book, so I have little qualm with how it was treated or mistreated. However, I have to agree with several critics (in a lesser degree) that there was something missing. I hate to be that vague, but I can point to some of the items on this list as contributors to that lack of impact. Even if I cried at the end, there seemed to be so much more potential promised in the first segment that never got delivered on.