When the 2005 novel Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro came out I devoured it promptly after hearing it’s critical claim. Even though I really enjoyed it, there was something that didn’t quite sit right with me. The plot, scenarios and subject matter are unusual, unsettling and yet touching at the same time.
As it deals with events that are not custom in our society, I wasn’t sure how the novel could be successfully adapted with the same sensitivity and subtle approach narrated in the novel. Turns out they didn’t do too bad a job.
Never Let Me Go focuses on three main characters: Kathy H (Carey Mulligan), the narrator of this story; Ruth (Keira Knightly) and Tommy D (Andrew Garfield), documenting various stages of their lives. Even though there is an initial glimpse at their present life, we are promptly led to their childhood which plays out at a boarding school. Set in three acts, the first of which is their early education, we learn about their life after school in shared housing and later, their adult lives. Initially set in the 1970s, there is something a little sinister and not quite right. The pupils are encouraged to look after themselves, with even the smallest of bruises resulting in a trip to the school nurses. Although the reason is given why they are treated like this, it still takes a while to sink in.
The movie explores the relationship between the three; from initial friendship to a complicated love triangle, resulting in their subsequent relationships. Ruth (Knightly), is suitably annoying as the leader of their group. Dominant and controlling when younger, she soon matures and realises how she has behaved. Special mention goes to Andrew Garfield as Tommy D; he is convincing as a sensitive student plagued by bullies and his lack of creativity. Cathy D (Mulligan), whose younger version looks uncannily like Mulligan, is a caring, sympathetic narrator who is difficult not to like.
Never Let Me Go deals with a number of interesting, profound themes including survival, humanity and love. The children strive to prove they have a soul, and frequently question their future even though it is somewhat predestined and out of their control. Starting in the 1970s, their world is typically British and coloured by a mixture of muted greys, beiges and greens. There are no bright colours; it’s very safe and neutral, which adds to the eerie tone of the film.
My main issue with the movie was that, unlike the novel, the truth about the three characters is revealed immediately. Despite the crux of the plot being divulged within the first five minutes, I won’t reveal it in here. I preferred the mysterious element of the novel which the movie evidently lacked, which may be why I’m not as fond of the adaptation. Despite this, Never Let Me Go is still emotive, just as bleak and a little unsettling. If nothing else, this melancholic movie will make you consider whether survival is more important than morals and humanity in the grand scheme of things.