At first sight, Mark Romanek’s Never Let Me Go is the Harry Potter film for a modern dystopia. It nails much of what I dislike about Hogwarts Academy, the conformity, the noble-minded authoritarianism, the obedient little drone who achieves heroism through obedience and destiny rather than sacrifice. Created by the novelist Kazuo Ishiguro, the Hailsham students of Never Let Me Go are chosen by birthright to save people as well, but they won’t be celebrated, and it will come at great unspoken cost.
Then again, Never Let Me Go is like Blade Runner, isn’t it? Anchored around the lives of characters who are designed to use and dispose. Sacrificial beings for the betterment of others. One calls death “retirement.” The other “completion.” Each contemplates if they are worthy of the rights and protections of souls. In style, the film follows in the line of English science fiction like Children of Men as a reaction to this enormously influential forbear. Rather than an eye-catchingly dystopian future, these films strive for oppressive anti-spectacle in a recognizable modern world.
And it’s a little like Inglourious Basterds, right? Each takes place in an alternative history, where it’s certain in one and possible in the other that World War II didn’t end the same way. While it doesn’t come out and say it, there is the suggestion that the Nazis, or at least Nazi medical ethics, prevailed with a genteel totalitarianism setting in. The story gives life to that unpleasant little Nietzsche observation that all forms of higher culture are based on cruelty.
And it is a little like the book and film of that other towering contemporary English novel, Atonement. They each follow a love triangle around lives of psychological oppression, anchored by an impressively interior performance by Carey Mulligan. She gets great mileage out of short sentences. They mark monumental discoveries that are really short and simple wisdom.
And maybe Never Let Me Go is like a Pink Floyd song. The famous ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ track Time. You truly feel the line ‘hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way.’ And it achieves that feeling that entire lives can be felt in one moment. The time is gone. The song is over. Thought I‘d something more to say.
I’m uncomfortable with things. I’m not sure that Andrew Garfield adds enough magnetism to carry the role of the doomed love interest (Charlotte Rampling, in two scenes, does). As for themes, I’m not sure it’s treading new ground so much as nicely re-treading sown ground.
I didn’t love it. I didn’t connect to it. Yet I reserve the right to I suspect it is a film that will keep a hold on me for a while. Indeed, never let me go.