Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Born to die

I'm slightly reluctant to offer a review of the film adaptation of Never Let Me Go - having not read Kazuo Ishiguro's novel, I can't be sure what can be praised or critiqued as particular to Mark Romanek and Alex Garfield's film rather than the book - but nevertheless...

The action begins at Hailsham, a boarding school that, from the outset, appears to harbour some sort of sinister secret. And *spoiler alert* sure enough it does - though the viewer isn't left to guess at what it might be for long, with one rogue teacher revealing to those in her care that they are to be nothing but organ donors, before promptly paying the price for the betrayal by losing her job. The film traces the intertwined lives of three pupils - Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Tommy (Andrew Garfield) and Ruth (Keira Knightley) - from childhood through to life beyond the confines of Hailsham, as teenagers and then young adults.

The message - if it's not too simplistic or quaint to talk of that - is hard to discern. On the one hand, despite the horrific nature of their existence, the trio broadly face their fate with stoicism. There is no real attempt to fight back against the injustice of their lot or rail about the decidedly dubious conception of scientific "progress" that has condemned them to being mere organ incubators just so others can live much longer lives. The film doesn't feel like a polemical commentary on medical advances and ethics. The focus is actually more on on the universal need and desire to make the most of the present. Ultimately, we are all going to "complete" (to adopt the film's own terminology) at some point - it's what we do before that that counts.

And yet the film left me feeling dejected and gloomy rather than inspired to carpe diem. As a whole, it's a bleak vision of an alternative dystopian present (one that is depressingly not inconceivable) and there is no happy ending, with Kathy left facing up to a dreadful future from which she can't escape. Maximising your time alive is shown to be easier said than done, too - the selfish actions of one character, Ruth, result in true soulmates Kathy and Tommy being kept apart for years and only enjoying the most fleeting of relationships before Tommy's death.

Either way, though, it's an engrossing watch, and one that will most likely haunt you for days afterwards.

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