Showing at the Showroom: Never Let Me Go

Die-hard romantic? It’s a lovely notion, but one I’d be hard pushed to apply to many films. The infinitely personal applied on a dizzying and sweeping scale? It’s not something that jumps to the fore in your average with a ROM prefix. Maybe I just need to do some more dredging through the classics (who doesn’t), maybe I just need to open up a bit more (again, who doesn’t), but it’s not often I get unwittingly caught up in the emotional tumult of other-people-who-happen-to-be-fictional. Full credit to Never Let Me Go then for absolutely broadsiding me.

At it’s emotional core the tale is one of unrequited love, which against better judgement I’m an absolute sucker for. I guess it’s not that hot on the Hollywood slate of rote narrative structures, as you inevitably can’t avoid misery for at least one, if not all of the characters. This isn’t the bog-standard love triangle, with it’s obvious guilt and the promise of some kind cathartic ‘action’ but rather the agonising, needling pain of what doesn’t happen, or worse still, what almost happens. The witheringly handsome trio of Knightley/Mulligan/Garfield manage the heavy-duty thesping that’s demanded of them, going from the sweet childhood flutters of love, up to the uncertain impasse of young adulthood. It’s all too easy to be sniffy about these BrightNewActors™ especially Her of Piratey Fame, but they all come into their own bringing these strange characters to life.

The strangeness comes from the soft science fiction situation of the story, which manages to take the stark alienation of an alternate world and cast it into scenes of discomfort readily familiar to the universal teenager. To take a separate (but well worth reading) parallel from Charles Burn’s comic Black Hole, the fantastical elements act as an obvious metaphor for the frustrations and confusion of being an average hormone-addled teenager. But obviously there’s more to it than that. It’s almost misleading to describe the film as science-fiction as it’s almost tertiary to the human drama. To exaggerate a tenant of good sci-fi, it’s greater empathy found in the alienation of circumstance. Romance has to build itself up on the bedrock of empathy, and heaven knows you have enough of that when you come around to the emotional crunch of this film.

Perhaps it’s because my teachers plied me with Petrarch at a dangerously hormonal age. Maybe I got dangerously empathetic to the story as I took a shining to Andrew Garfield’s wardrobe (it’s very nice in a futuro-rustic way), but it’s really the actors who bring the goods to what is a really superb story. More than a passing infatuation I like to think, but I can’t wait to see it again.

Five out of Five

Never Let Me Go is showing at the Showroom cinema in Sheffield from the 11th of February 2011.

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2 thoughts on “Showing at the Showroom: Never Let Me Go

  1. Yu Xiang says:

    Have not yet seen the film, but will hopefully soon. I have read the book though, and liked it to a large extent. Some have found the premise of the book implausible – that three people filled with the passions of youth would so meekly accept their fate. Yet there is something about the story that is terribly, tragically human.

    We alone can be so readily convinced of the utter hopelessness of our lot.

    One episode of the Holocaust in Ukraine as described by the historian Michael Berenbaum always comes to mind:

    “One after the other, they had to remove their luggage, then their coats, shoes, and over-garments and also underwear… Once undressed, they were led into the ravine which was about 150 meters long and 30 meters wide and a good 15 meters deep… When they reached the bottom of the ravine they were seized by members of the Schutzmannschaft and made to lie down on top of Jews who had already been shot… The corpses were literally in layers. A police marksman came along and shot each Jew in the neck with a sub-machine gun… I saw these marksmen stand on layers of corpses and shoot one after the other … The marksman would walk across the bodies of the executed Jews to the next Jew, who had meanwhile lain down, and shoot him.”

    Living, breathing human beings can be made to lie down on top of corpses not yet cold, to face the same fate as suffered by those underneath merely minutes ago. In contrast Ishiguro’s narrative seems wildly plausible – at least there was all those years of schooling at Hailsham.

    When life imitates art, what hope is there for us.

    • burntretina says:

      It’s a stark comparison you draw, perhaps even a little extreme, but the idea of carrying on in the face of sheer and utter hopelessness is a pretty sturdy trope. I’d be hard pushed to even read it as failing with the story of Never Let Me Go, because there’s always the rumour of hope beyond what society has fated for these children, even if that is obviously pretty spurious. To criticise it as such seems to be more of a reader driven frustration than a fault of the story.

      But as I sort-of say, the situation of the story almost feels like a construct designed to do nothing but amplify the tragedy of an almost everyday fraying of emotions. A lifetime of emotions crushed into the short window of a doomed existence, which is perhaps what gives it even more weepy clout. Whatever may be in life, people will still always cling onto love and compassion. Take any referent you like for that, but the end of Blade Runner, and the climax of the Watchmen immediately spring to mind.

      BUT HEY, Que Sera Sera, Whatever Will Be Will Be.

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