Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Never Let Me Go

"Ménage à Triage"
"My Clone Sleeps Alone"

Never Let Me Go, the film, makes you wonder what all the fuss was about.  A slight "Twilight Zone" bit of story, hinging on one theme—the central conceit being the showing of life from the point of view of sheltered, cloned organ donors who will live out their short lives being harvested for spare parts—but taking the concept and going nowhere with it, serving almost solely for the metaphorical revelation that "life is short."

I know that.  I read the papers.

The book the film is based on, written by Kazuo Ishiguro (who wrote "The Remains of the Day"), was nominated for the Booker Prize for fiction in 2005.  It is faint praise to say the film makes you want to read the book, as it must be Ishiguro's writing style that garnered the acclaim, and the majesties and mysteries of his prose and story-telling capabilities that inspired the making of this film that betrays those intentions.  Because other than that central conceit, and some interesting acting choices by the participants, the film fails to generate anything other than a melancholy malaise.  And whether one wants to use it as a tract against Britain's private school system, a cautionary tale of "science gone wrong," the ultimate pointlessness of Faith, or the horrific extensions of animal experimentation, the fact is that we're all one synaptic event away from becoming a squishy spare parts warehouse, as revealed on our own personal Id's, something done as an act of charity, the giving of our last full measure.

So, the mixed signals sent by the film of the book, and its clumsy way of revealing the particulars of the plot, do no service to its source, merely revealing the surface highlights, and not delving into more meaty psychological or motivational matters, turning the film into merely a digest, a palimpsest, or more appropriately, a cadaver of the book.

It focuses on a trio of children—Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Ruth (Keira Knightley) and Tommy (Andrew Garfield)—raised in a private boarding school, one of many, that is, in fact, more of a farm.  The children attending know nothing of the outside world, raised in a bubble of perfect manners, good health, docility, and fear of what lies beyond the fence surrounding the grounds.  There is no need to prepare them for life as we know it, because they won't be participating in it.  Only contributing to it.

They are carefully groomed and kept in the dark about their purpose, and within the cliques that inevitably occur there, rumors and speculation swirl among the kids about what happens when you go outside the fence (nothing good), and eventually, about ways to get deferments from donor status by proving their worth by displaying artistic skill...or, cruelly, falling in love.

They cling to these beliefs, like rosaries, with no basis in fact, but only the strength of their hopes, and in the absence of all evidence.  Kathy and Tommy grow close, become empathetic friends, but as they grow older, Ruth becomes the object of Tommy's affections, and Kathy goes her own path, choosing to become a "carer," in service of the donors on the short path of their careers, delaying her fate, watching as those less fortunate are taken away from her, piece by piece. 

It's frustrating watching.  Oh, the actors are fine, and actually more than fine, given the material.  Mulligan's crooked half-smile speaks volumes of a life only partially lived, and Knightley is completely unafraid of looking sadly decrepid.  But, it is still painful to watch these clueless kids, marginalized and compartmentalized, pursuing fruitless hopes in an effort to live a full life.  One would feel more sympathy if they would just be a bit more their own advocates, or even a bit more revolutionary.  It is extraordinarily facile to compare this one to other "low shelf-life" movies on the order of The Island, or Logan's Run, sci-fi action films on the theme.  Never Let Me Go has the same built-in planned obsolescence of adolescents conundrum—given the acquisition of some knowledge, wouldn't some of them choose to fight it?  It doesn't have to be with space-guns and chase scenes, but...something.  And despite their role in the food-chain, don't the administrators of these schools (Charlotte Rampling plays the main one here), especially the ones portrayed here, have some sort of empathetic identification with their charges, especially given the revelations they profess (rather hollowly)?  That these questions pop up during the viewing of the film, when one should be riveted to the screen and it's reflected situations, only points out that the film-makers haven't done their work perfecting their illusions, in pursuit of their allusions. 

To further extrapolate the somewhat cruel comparison of the film to a cadaver of the original piece, the spirit of the thing is missing, however ardently it is played.  Ultimately, one's appreciation of the film lies in its performances in the service of a flawed interpretation and one's own interest in the players, which is as superficial as this film feels.

Never Let Me Go is a Rental

No comments: