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.