Somewhere in England, students congregate daily on the pastoral grounds of the Hailsham
boarding school watching soccer, gossiping, and daydreaming about the future. They playfully crowd around a teacher as she approaches the entrance, but she shrinks from their contact and scurries inside. The teacher’s reaction is a common one, although mystifying to the students.
Never Let Me Go is a 2010 British science fiction film that takes place in a parallel reality. In that reality, a medical breakthrough in cloning in the 1950s resulted in longer life spans for humans – the children hold the key to extending people’s lives. They’ve been cloned in order to provide organs to humans and will be called into service in early adulthood, destined to “complete” soon after. Ironically, humans are repulsed by them, which gives rise to a caste system of sorts.
The film is based on the 2005 novel by Japanese-British writer Kazuo Ishiguro and adapted by English screenwriter Alex Garland. The story centres on three young students, Cathy, Ruth and Tommy. They form a romantic triangle, with the deep connection between Cathy and Tommy derailed by the charms of Ruth. On the surface, the trio seems preoccupied with romance, art, and the curiosities of the outside world – though it becomes clear they’re acutely aware of their ominous situation.
In an interview on one of the DVD’s special features Ishiguro explains that he viewed the premise as a metaphor for the human condition. “We all complete,” Cathy says. “Maybe none of us… feel we had enough time.”
Never Let Me Go begins in 1978 and ends in the early 1990s. In keeping with Ishiguro’s intention, the nearly contemporary setting heightens the sense of realism rather than focusing on the fantastic elements of the plot. The film’s American director, Mark Romanek, creates a seductive, visual beauty that keeps the viewer engaged.
The authenticity of the young actors playing Cathy (Isabel Meikle-Small), Ruth (Ella Purnell), and Tommy (Charlie Rowe) and their integration with the older actors playing the same characters is essential, and Romanek deserves much of the credit for the successful transition to the older versions of the characters (Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightly, and Andrew Garfield). All the actors exude a confidence in stillness that gives more power to the rare emotional outbursts.
Mulligan and Garfield have risen into the spotlight since Never Let Me Go was released in 2010; among their various roles since then Mulligan played Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby and Garfield is Peter Parker in the new Spiderman series.
In a behind-the-scenes documentary Ishiguro, the filmmakers, and actors provide interesting insight into both the story and the filmmaking process. Among the special features are two unusual extras that flesh out the world of Never Let Me Go. One offers close-up views of Tommy’s art, created for the character by artist Charlie Cobb, and another shows a fictional public information campaign.