A TRIO of bright talent brings Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2005 novel to life in Mark Romanek’s vision of a distopic sci-fi weepie. With BAFTA winner Carey Mulligan leading the narrative as the achingly-resigned Kathy H, this distressing coming-of-age tale unravels like a train wreck.
The minor details – the moments that give away the disturbing horror-show behind the three young lives that will end with certain pain – are cruelly deceptive thanks to the slow delivery of the plot. Before you know it, an hour has gone by before you realise the joke is most definitely on you: it’s too late to look away now and what’s worse is that you know there’s no happy ending.
Kathy, Ruth (Keira Knightley) and Tommy (Andrew Mulligan) grow up at the seemingly idyllic boarding school, Halisham. At first nothing seems too out of the ordinary – Kathy and Tommy look set to embark upon a sweet childhood romance, sparked by an analogue love token of a cassette tape.
Though they remain friends, it is Ruth and Tommy that pair off, much to Kathy’s silent heartache. As their time at Halisham comes to an end and they learn of their real fate – to be on standby in case their “originals” need their vital organs – they struggle to come to terms with the knowledge they are nothing more than clones for a short life of “donation” and “completion” – the moment their bodies are no longer needed.
Ten years later, the three meet again. Ruth has donated twice and is nearing death. With guilt for coming between Kathy and Tommy gnawing at her conscience, she encourages them to pursue their love and seek a “deferral” from the former head of Halisham, a rumour that gives clones a few years to be together before donating.
An overbearing sadness permeates the tone of the whole film, it’s oppressive and unrelenting as we come to understand the frustrations of living a life of certain misery.
What makes it more disturbing is the anchorless nature of the period and its setting. The generality of the English countryside and a shabby seaside town is misleading – the peace and tranquillity of what should be simple living is undermined by the Orwellian undertones of clocking in an out with a wrist-tag.
Time is constantly manipulated, with the weightless nature of the decades it undoubtedly spans giving the film an uneasy timeless feature. With excellent performances from three promising actors, Never Let Me Go will have even the stoniest of hearts breaking.