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Movie Review

Never Let Me Go

MPAA Rating: R for some sexuality and nudity.

Reviewed by: Spencer Schumacher

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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Sci-Fi Thriller Drama Adaptation
1 hr. 43 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
September 15, 2010
DVD: February 1, 2011
Copyright, Fox Searchlight Pictures click photos to ENLARGE Copyright, Fox Searchlight Pictures Copyright, Fox Searchlight Pictures Copyright, Fox Searchlight Pictures Copyright, Fox Searchlight Pictures
Relevant Issues
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Final judgment



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Sex, Love & Relationships
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Featuring: Carey Mulligan (Kathy), Andrew Garfield (Tommy), Keira Knightley (Ruth), Izzy Meikle-Small (Young Kathy), more »
Director: Mark Romanek—“One Hour Photo
Producer: DNA Films, Film4, Alex Garland, Richard Hewitt, Andrew Macdonald, Allon Reich, Mark Romanek, Tessa Ross
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Book cover—Never Let Me Go. Copyrighted.

Author Kazuo Ishiguro has described his 2005 novel Never Let Me Go as a Science Fiction story without the standard conventions of the genre. Since both Ishiguro and director Mark Romanek have disclosed in many interviews a major plot point of the story, I do not feel the need to post a “Spoiler Alert” in mentioning a key “reveal” that serves as a defining moment in the sub plot of the story. Actually, it may help some in understanding the subtle and gradual nature of this rather complex and sobering film.

The film, at its heart, is a story of love and friendship between three people who by the sake of their identities have a life long bond. The story is of Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Tommy (Andrew Garfield) and Ruth (Keira Knightley) who we meet as young children attending an idyllic English boarding school named Halisham. They are brought up to be obsessively healthy and not allowed to consume or engage in anything that would poison their bodies, because, as the headmistress tells them, “Halisham children are special.”

Early in the film it is revealed how “special” they are. An art teacher known simply as “Madame” informs them that the lives they are leading are not ordinary lives; they are children who have been cloned and are being bred as organ donors.

Once they become young adults, they move from Halisham and into a donor community known as the “Cottages,” where they get their first taste of a world outside of Halisham and seek to find the meaning of their existence. Ruth (Keira Knightley) and Tommy (Andrew Garfield) develop a relationship that threatens to tear apart the friendship the three enjoy.

There is a lot to recommend about this film. The acting by the three leads is quite good, and Carey Mulligan is quickly developing into a rare talent. There is a lyrical quality to this film, in that it allows its audience to figure out certain elements to the story without having to clearly spell it out for them; in other words, it never insults the intelligence of the audience. Visually the film is beautiful, as the rich exteriors and lush landscapes help to showcase the loving relationship these three have for each other.

The gradual way that the plot is revealed is very intriguing, and, having not read the book, I really had no idea going in as to what the film was about. The characters refer to their lot in life in euphemisms that require participatory thinking from the audience.

As far as objectionable material, the film is rated “R” for some sex and nudity. The nudity comes in a scene where Kathy (Carey Mulligan) is first discovering the idea of sex by looking through a pile of men’s magazines; with the pages open, the audience can clearly see the nude women displayed in the magazines. There are also a couple of sex scenes, the first of which is more implied than actual. The second one is definitely more involved, however it is shot mostly from the back, and there is no nudity in the scene.

Another item that some viewers might find more shocking than objectionable is an operation scene which takes place toward the end of the film. Though mostly shot out of focus, there are a couple shots that might make viewers a little queasy.

Though “Never Let Me Go” is primarily a love story, it’s one of melancholy, as the three characters clearly know what fate has in store for them. This is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, as it deals directly with themes of death and dying, and often times is very dark. Within the darkness, there is a sense of hope and a deep, spiritual bond between these three individuals that are far more than mere friends.

Violence: None / Profanity: Mild / Sex/Nudity: Moderate

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Positive—Life is precious and fragile, and most of the time, we take it for granted. We fail to see that life is limitless, because we create arbitrary boundaries for ourselves, which stifle our true potential. We settle for the commonplace, and lie to ourselves by believing that this is all that there is. Most individuals will never break away from the traps that they have set up for themselves, and they will never know true freedom.

However, some do find the will to escape, to be free, to grasp at a possible alternative. Some live their entire lives this way, and for others, it may only be a moment—but it is better to have had that one moment of true liberty, than to have lived your whole life without it. “Never Let Me Go” is about all of this and more. It is a film that you will never forget, and as you leave the theatre, you should have a renewed appreciation for the intricacies of life. It is a somber experience unlike anything that you have seen in quite some time, but it is that emotional punch that drives the film.

In order to avoid spoilers, I will only provide a brief synopsis of the film. This film relies heavily on its secrets, in order to be effective. The film opens in an alternate, dystopian world at Hailsham, an English boarding school for young boys and girls. Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy have been best friends for quite sometime, and as a result, the quiet, reserved Kathy has developed an innocent crush on Tommy, a timid young man prone to random fits of rage. Meanwhile, headstrong Ruth sets out to garner the young man’s affections. Young Kathy is heartbroken, but carries on.

One day, while the children are in class, their schoolteacher suddenly breaks into tears. She pulls the blinders from their eyes, and reveals the harsh realities regarding their strict upbringing at Hailsham. It turns out that these children have been consigned to an unspeakable fate, which will alter their lives forever. After this revelation—which costs the teacher her job—we move forward in time, as Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy weave in and out of each others lives, as the threat of the inevitable hangs ceaselessly over their heads.

This is a film that will grab you from start to finish. At one hour and forty-two minutes, this film runs the entire scope of human emotion. You care for these characters, and you feel as if you know them. You want to see them live; you want them to run, to escape, to own their lives. You want them to realize that there are no boundaries—that they were never there to begin with.

If you feel as though I have not given you much of a synopsis, know that to say anything more would be detrimental to your experience of the film. This film was directed by Mark Romanek (“One Hour Photo”). He handles the material with such respect and delicacy, and as a result, he allows us to connect emotionally with what we see. Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightly, and Andrew Garfield truly live inside of these characters. Their strengths and weaknesses are up on the screen on full display for all to see.

You will never forget these characters. You will never forget this film. This is truly one of the best films of 2010. Rated R for sexuality and nudity, although it is not gratuitous, and should not keep you from seeing this beautiful film.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Steven Adam Renkovish, age 28 (USA)
Positive—This movie is very melancholy. So if that sort of thing leaves you feeling depressed and suicidal, don’t watch it. Me, I sorta like melancholy… Everything about this movie was well-made and well-acted. It could easily have been rated PG-13, if they had cut out a couple sex scenes. So if you like melancholy, and you don’t mind using the fast-forward button, I would recommend it.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Nory Forbes, age 18 (USA)