Tuesday, January 4, 2011

'Never Let Me Go', directed by Mark Romanek and based on the 2005 novel by Kazuo Ishiguro is a story about three friends who grow up in an idyllic country school called Hailsham in the late seventies. They are amongst a group of fellow children who were raised for one single purpose - to reach adulthood and start donating their vital organs to people who need it, until they die, or as the story puts it, when they 'complete'.

It's not a science fiction dystopian story about a bad world. Calling it so would be naive as the parallels this story draws with real life and how children are raised in controlled environments make you wonder if Ishiguro was merely telling a story or rather showing us a reflection we generally turn away from. In the story, kids aren't told how normal kids live lives in the outside world, they aren't encouraged to dream and the only contact they have with 'naturals' is through teachers and caretakers. The only priority is to make sure they live absolutely healthy lives.

Kathy and Ruth are really good friends. Tommy is shy and weird. Kathy and Tommy strike a chord as she is the only one in school who does not tease him. Getting jealous of this closeness Ruth moves in and makes Tommy her boyfriend (ah, schooldays) before anything can happen between him and Kathy. The three grow up together and move to 'The Cottages', a place where they meet 'donors' from other schools in their late teens before they are all seen primed up for organ donation. Kathy, not being able to withstand the tag of being the third wheel, volunteers to be a 'carer', who travels across the country and looks after donors who are about to 'complete' after their third or fourth donation.

Cliche demands that movies cannot be as good as the book. This time, I think it's a tie. Romanek does justice to Ishiguro, although he does leave out some small moments from the book. I'm guessing he did so to make the story less dramatic. but he makes it up with the excellent casting of characters. Carey Mulligan (An Education) is beautiful as the humble and introvert narrator Kathy. It is, perhaps, one of her best roles. Keira Knightley (Bend It Like Beckham, Pirates of the Caribbean)  as Ruth glides tirelessly between shades of a best friend who is a bitch at times and later, a person looking for redemption. Andrew Garfield (Boy A, The Social Network) as the hopeful and gentle Tommy, is showing more promise with every single role he has played so far. Boy A and Never Let Me Go should come out as a double Garfield package if he ever makes it to the A-List. It doesn't really matter - he's already a great actor. 

The background score is really good as the music switches effortlessly from a green English countryside vibe to a tense hopeless moment in some operating table. A song, also called 'Never Let Me Go' is a track by fictional jazz singer Judy Bridgewater, in a cassette that Tommy gifts Kathy while at Hailsham. According to Ishiguro, this is sung by a mother to her baby daughter. The young Kathy would often play it in the empty dorm while holding her pillow tight. A part in the book and left out in the movie, shows a French art teacher addressed by the students as Madame, crying while she sees Kathy swaying gently with this song playing in the recorder. Kathy does not understand then why Madame wept. Years later when they meet again, Madame explains that in that moment she saw a girl about to leave the old life, that was the comfort Hailsham offered, and move on to a cruel world that would see her as a resource for a better life. This song according to Madame, was the girl's words to her old life, asking it not to let her go. 

It's a good book to read. It's a great movie to watch. And yes, boys do cry.

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