Never Let Me Go

A common practice when viewing a film is placing oneself in the position of the protagonist. What would you do in that situation? How would you react differently? Could you totally make that jump across those buildings? You know, the usual questions. Yet, occasionally a non-action, thriller or horror movie comes along that makes you question your current choices along with your hypothetical ones in the context of the film. Never Let Me Go is one of the latter films.


Based on a Kazuo Ishiguro novel, Never Let Me Go follows the lives of Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Tommy (Andrew Garfield) and Ruth (Keira Knightley) from around ten-years-old to adulthood. In a secretive, suspicious boarding school, the youngsters learn that their futures are predetermined and we get to see how their lives are affected, particularly the love and friendships between the three.

The unsung hero of this movie is the casting director. First, the children tasked with portraying the young Kathy, Ruth and Tommy all have physical similarities to their adult actor counterparts. It’s actually quite impressive how well the children fit in the roles, both aesthetically and emotionally. Next, the casting of Garfield, Knightley and especially Mulligan really gives extra life to the characters—this sentence has more connotations upon viewing the film.

Each actor brings something special to the table for their roles. Knightley is surprisingly devious as the jealous Ruth who takes Tommy from Kathy for her own personal gains. With a little help from her youthful cohort, Knightley finds a way to make Ruth both a villain and victim.

Tommy is definitely the weakest link of the three. Whether something was lost in the adaptation to screen or he is just a lackluster character, there was always something lifeless about his emotions and reactions. Garfield does the best he can to give some humanity to the general malaise and unrecognized emotions present in Tommy’s character. Similar to a child’s melancholic confusion when questioning why their first puppy disappeared, Tommy’s character is lost and unaware. Towards the end of the film, when Tommy begins to grasp his “creativity,” Garfield is finally provided the opportunity to explore Tommy’s conflicting emotions, but by then your focus and the onus of the film are squarely on Kathy/Mulligan.

Mulligan seems to choose—or be typecast for—roles that force her to be subdued and submissive. I may be wrong, or generalizing a little too much, but that’s how it seems. Never Let Me Go is the same, but the role of Kathy requires a certain level of personal strength that Mulligan brings to the table with ease. Since her future is determined, her love is somewhat unrequited and nothing seems to go her way, Kathy has to buckle down and push forward hoping to find some consolation and personal joy in the muck. Mulligan gives her lines with the anticipated sweetness, but adds a sense of conviction that really helps Kathy become an even better character. Isobel Meikle-Small plays the young Kathy and does an equally impressive job.

By now you must be wondering about the actual story of the film. Never Let Me Go is set in an alternate version of the present where medical advances have improved the life expectancy and changed the way people interact. Kathy, Tommy and Ruth have a special role in this technologically and medically advanced society that fixes their future without any room for growth. The one struggle the film has is describing the outside world. Like many films, there is a small blurb in the beginning explaining a portion of the circumstances, but unfortunately, a lot of the specifics are still left unknown by the end. This does not become a massive flaw of the film as the choices made by the main characters are the emphasis, but you cannot help but wonder about some features of not only their condition, but the condition of everyone outside their bubble.

I am being more vague and ambiguous than usual because I think Never Let Me Go is worth seeing. It’s more than a sappy love triangle; despite the dishonorable reputation that genre has received in recent years. You will question the ethics; you will question the consequences; you will question the pragmatism; you will question your own choices. However, in the end you’ll be left with a fairly common final thought: what’s it all for?

*So after all that effort, the trailer gives absolutely everything away. Just a warning in case you actually want to see the movie at some point.

  1. I was pleasantly surprised by this one. Still want to read the book too.

    • Same. I am curious about the deeper story that I’m sure gets explained much more in depth.

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