Melancholy Never Let Me Go Bends Genres
- Friday, October 15, 2010
DVD Release Date: February 1, 2011
Theatrical Release Date: October 15, 2010 (wide)
Rating: R (for sexual content and nudity)
Genre: Drama, Science Fiction, Adaptation
Run Time: 103 min
Director: Mark Romaneck
Cast: Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightly, Andrew Garfield, Sally Hawkins, Charlotte Rampling
"I embrace my loneliness because it's my own." — Russian axiom
History's most inspiring moments are those when people rise up against their oppressors. In our movies, we expect nothing less. If a person or people have been controlled or enslaved, we don't just want to see the protagonists overcome; we automatically assume they will. In Never Let Me Go, they don't—nor do they even try.
For as odd as that may seem, not rebelling is actually the norm. By and large, "settling" is what people do, in circumstances both grave and mundane. When faced with obstacles, the natural human inclination is to resign rather than revolt.
Most stories would simplify that tendency to a result of fear and cowardice. The truth, however, is much more nuanced than that, and it's one Never Let Me Go has proper empathy for: people don't rebel when the cost is losing whom they love, or being torn from all they know.
Oh—and it's a theme explored in a slightly-skewed alternate universe of the latter twentieth century.
Based on the book by acclaimed novelist Kazuo Ishiguro (The Remains of the Day), Never Let Me Go is a genre-bending indie drama that blindsides with a shocking revelation about twenty minutes in (a "whoa" twist I won't divulge here, though previews do). It takes place in the '70s, '80s and '90s, yet feels like a period piece, and then becomes something more.
The setting is an elite boarding school in the English countryside. It's a sub-culture in a time warp, by design and purpose; an England that time forgot. The students are all orphans; no parents, no siblings, no family to speak of. That they attend such an exclusive institution would seem a wonderful example of societal altruism.
The real motive, however, is much more sinister, and we learn of it as the kids do from one teacher whose conscience can no longer suppress the truth. It literally redefines their reality, not only revealing their intended destinies but even exposing the very nature of their origins.
Before this revelation, we see the core relationships form—two girls and one boy—at the grade school level. Though set against a rigidly structured environment (and cold, de-saturated aesthetic), an air of nostalgia emerges from innocence, particularly as affection grows between young Kathy and the school's shy, awkward outcast Tommy. Ruth, pretty and popular, enters and complicates this dynamic. Soon, and inexplicably, she seduces Tommy for her own. Kathy is crushed but the feelings are never spoken of, and the three remain close as they grow older.
Now in their teens (played by Oscar-nominees Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightly, and notable newcomer Andrew Garfield of The Social Network), sexuality begins to complicate things further. Feelings are still unaddressed, and unspoken tensions remain even as a mature Kathy finds the grace to live in that tension. That grace is true love for Tommy, desiring his happiness above her own.
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