Starring: Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, Keira Knightley
Director: Mark Romanek
Running Time: 104 mins
Never Let Me Go is a British film about an alternate history where three friends who grew up together in a countryside boarding school find themselves in a brutal love triangle, all the while coming to terms with their true destiny in life.
This film absolutely floored me. Apart from taking an ingenious approach to a dystopian sci-fi world, it’s one of the most hauntingly beautiful cinematic experiences you’ll ever have. Featuring three incredible central performances, exceptional directing, scoring and cinematography, not to mention the enthralling and emotionally devastating screenplay, Never Let Me Go is a truly seismic experience, but one you won’t forget any time soon.
Rather frustratingly, it’s tough to talk about so much of this film without venturing into spoiler territory. Despite that, I can say for certain that each chance and twist that this story takes is always better than the last, but I do wholeheartedly recommend that you go into this film knowing as little as possible about the story, because it really adds to the power of watching it.
First off, let’s talk about the story and the concept. Based on a 2005 novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, the brilliant blending of alternate history and dystopian sci-fi is really remarkable. Rather than being a disturbing vision of the future, setting this story in the past gives you the terrifyingly uneasy sense that everything that occurs in this film has already happened, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.
And beyond just the time period is the English countryside setting, yet another ingenious part of the story that adds to the tension and mystery of everything that’s going on. The grey, bland boarding school where the main characters spent their childhood is expertly handled, and sets the story up on a brilliant footing by putting you in the mood for a truly devastating watch right from the beginning.
Following on from the hugely eerie first act in the school, we see the trio grow up and venture out into the wider world. Again, no spoilers here, but the way that the film then plays a fascinating love triangle, an enthralling sci-fi premise and a devastating message about the fleeting nature of life into the remainder of the story is exhilarating to see, with each moment of this film becoming more and more brutal yet entrancing than the last.
Of course, it’s not only the screenplay that makes Never Let Me Go such a success. One thing that really stands out here is the cinematography and directing. Director Mark Romanek gives the film an incredible confidence to deliver such a devastating experience, never seeming to shy away from the more brutal aspects of the story as well as unfamiliar sci-fi concepts, making it a film that you can’t look away from at any moment.
However, the way that the film looks is even more brilliant. As I said earlier, the school in the first act is distinctly grey and bland, heightening the desperate feelings of all those there, but the way that the film then changes its visual style, featuring more dynamic shots than the deliberately rigid ones of the first act, and yet still retains the horrible uneasiness of the time spent at school throughout, is yet another exceptional and devastating thing that makes this film so memorable.
And finally, on the technical side of things, is the score. Whilst the directing, cinematography and screenplay are all vital to this film’s extremely depressing atmosphere, the score is what really makes it work so well. As melancholic music as you’ve ever heard, the score plays unnervingly loudly and consistently in the background, once again heightening the devastating and brutal emotional power of the film.
Lastly, we’ve got the performances. The leading trio here are nothing short of stunning, with Andrew Garfield putting in an unorthodox, but strangely emotionally impacting turn, and Keira Knightley turning in an incredible show with a huge range from aggression to docile depression, with both making their characters mesmerising to watch.
However, the big stand-out here is Carey Mulligan, whose performance is mind-blowing. Never going too far with the emotional drama, Mulligan looks very quiet and composed throughout the majority of this movie, but the true class of her performance is seen in the small details, as she conveys her character’s emotional turmoil through the smallest, almost unnoticeable signals. However, that’s something that makes a true enigma to follow throughout this film, as well as the central figure in the entire film’s brilliant use of subtext and symbolism at every moment.
Overall, I thought this was an exceptional film. Its story is enthralling and devastating from start to finish, the visuals, score and atmosphere are all hauntingly beautiful, and the central performances are truly special, all coming together to make one of the most memorable and brutally riveting film’s you’ll ever see, and that’s why I’m giving Never Let Me Go an 8.9.