True to Ishiguro's source material, the melodrama is extraordinarily restrained even as we sense powerful, surging emotions.  Dynamics between the three become even more complex and heightened after the big, disturbing reveal occurs, as they learn why they (and their classmates) will never be free. 

Their resignation to fate surprises us mostly because movies have trained us to expect the opposite—but to see it unfold elicits parallels to our own compromises.  It also reflects a very un-American trait common to both British and Japanese cultures (from which Ishiguro mutually descends), that of accepting one's fate with dignity.  Submission, at times, can be noble—especially when selfless.  Indeed, history's greatest example of that is Christ at Gethsemane, wanting the cup to pass but choosing to accept it anyway.

Issues of class suppression by the Elites (also common to British and Asian cultures) are inherent as is, by extension, the value and depth of one's soul—examined, in part, by the denial of it.  At the core of it all is the most universal sentiment:  that life is short.  As a result, decisions matter; they resonate, have consequences, and often set a course we can never fully see until time has passed and we can't get it back. 

Ruth's selfishness causes the most pain and, ultimately, the most painful regrets.  Under the circumstances, Ruth is both villain and victim, unjustified in what she robs from Kathy and Tommy but sympathetic as it's her only means of survival.  She is manipulative, but broken.  Keira Knightly embodies this conflict with heartless calculation that softens to a sad humanity, born of guilt.  It is a powerful performance—her best—and is equaled in counterpoint by Carey Mulligan's compassionate, heartbreaking turn as Kathy.

Director Mark Romaneck (One Hour Photo) crafts the precise screenplay by Alex Garland (Sunshine, 28 Days Later) with artful melancholy.  An undercurrent of sadness and tragedy runs throughout, and builds, tempered by respites of beauty, humor, and tenderness (or a mix of all—as in a poignant fish-out-of-water diner scene, or the fascination with art, or Kathy's passion for an old romantic song from which the film derives its title).  Sadly these are only respites, and redemption isn't found in justice but rather repentance and sacrifice.

As the film progresses, a helpless thought lingers: "poor them".  But after the final coda, you may come to see more of your own life than you first realized, or would like to admit.  Why do people stay in dead-end lives?  In jobs they hate?  Why don't they run?  Why don't they escape?  Not only is it harder to do than movies often romanticize, but concession is often born of hard choices, conflicting options, and responsibility to others.

We may choose the less attractive—and undeserved—life because we don't want to leave the people we love behind.  Their struggle becomes ours, and there is no shame in that compromise.  Indeed—there is righteousness.


  • Drugs/Alcohol Content:  None.
  • Language/Profanity:  Virtually non-existent.  One use of "God" in exclamation. 
  • Sexual Content/Nudity:  Images of topless women in a magazine.  Sex is heard off-camera, then briefly seen (though private parts are not exposed).  Sex in a hospital bed is implied, not seen.  One woman kisses another on the lips.  Middle school age girls talk about losing one's virginity, but not in graphic terms (more wondering about who will be first). 
  • Violence/Other:  None, although surgical procedures are briefly portrayed, including incisions and organs.