Never Let Me Go is a sad movie. It’s about love and missed opportunities, and that’s just depressing sometimes. Plus, there’s a load of grey in the movie, and that sorta bums you out, too. Oh, and there is a sci-fi twist, but not something cool like lasers or ion blasters or space monkeys. It’s mostly about a love triangle and while you’ll probably have a good cry, you’ll wonder why they even need a sci-fi twist for a love-triangle movie.
The sci-fi part of Never Let Me Go is revealed relatively early in the film, and while keeping it a secret for a little longer might have made it more interesting, it’s not like you can’t figure out what’s going on pretty easily. On DVD, it’s worse, because they tell you what’s going on in the description on the back of the box. So, here it is, the thing they don’t tell you at the beginning that you sorta figure out yourself anyway and then they say explicitly 20 minutes into the movie: the kids are clones.
The kids are not just clones, they are clones intended to be harvested for their organs when they grow up. This isn’t in some futuristic world with hover cars and space monkeys (I love the idea of space monkeys), but rather 1980s England. The kids are at Hailsham, a boarding school run by Miss Emily (Charlotte Rampling) where everyone dresses in gray and takes very good care of their “insides.” Three of the kids -- Kathy (Izzy Meikle-Small), Ruth (Ella Purnell), and Tommy (Charlie Rowe) -- are friends, but it's clear the quiet Kathy and the outsider Tommy are meant to be together. That doesn’t stop the pretty Ruth from stepping in and taking Tommy as her own.
Flash forward to the young adult versions of the three (now played by Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, and Andrew Garfield) who are getting ready for their lives as spare parts for “real” people and maintaining the same love triangle they started at their boarding school. This is the basic premise of the whole film. The organ-donor thing is just a premise to shorten their lives and make every minute with the right person, the person you truly love, so important. Of course, Tommy and Kathy aren’t together, so there is the horrible realization that soon they will be used up (“complete” in the lingo of this alternate reality) and won’t have made a life together.
At some point it becomes clear that the sci-fi aspect of this thing doesn’t really come into play much. Yes, there are some ethics thrown out at the very end, and the fact that they are clone organ donors makes their life span shorter and the need to connect intimately more urgent, but other than that it’s just a love triangle. Kathy loves Tommy, Tommy is with Ruth, Ruth and Kathy are meant to be friends. The organ-donor thing doesn’t add anything to it, so the movie stands or falls on the love story.
Fortunately, it’s a good love story, well played by the leads who come across more realistically than you might expect in such a fantastical story. Mulligan is just a wonder to behold. Every word out of her mouth rings true, and Knightley is also very good. Garfield is as dorky as his character needs to be. Director Mark Romanek shoots everything with unbelievable care, so the film has an amazing feel for what is really a small intimate story.
The story and movie are very sad, but well made. It’s just that there is all this other stuff (the cloning bits) that gets short shrift. It is a great premise that doesn’t really get used like it should. But if you love love triangles and sad stories, this may be the film for you.
It’s amazing how a bunch of nothing can be put together and advertised on the back of the DVD box to look like something. The Never Let Me Go DVD doesn’t have much in the way of substantial extras, but it has quite a few extras listed. There are no commentaries, and that’s really a shame. The interviews done with the director, writer, and actors make it clear that there were a lot of articulate people on this project, and hearing more from them would have been nice.
The only real extra is a 30-minute featurette called “The Secrets of Never Let Me Go.” Here’s something about that…there are no secrets. Well, there are none revealed in this featurette, anyway. What is revealed is the usual information such as how they turned the book into the movie, what the actors think and how great they are, how dedicated the director is, and all the rest of stuff you usually get. The people speak well and the project is interesting, but there is nothing here that you don’t see in any featurette on a movie. Plus, there are no secrets.
The remaining extras are two- to three-minute slideshows of pictures and graphics set to music. The first is on-set, black-and-white pictures taken by director Mark Romanek. There is also art completed for the character Tommy and used as a key plot point. Finally, there is some pamphlets and graphics for the “National Donor Program” that the main characters are a part of. These three brief shows, each listed separately, are fine as supplements to more substantial extras, but as the whole show, they disappoint.
There is also a trailer, which gives away a little too much of the plot, I think. It’s a fine DVD since the movie is good, but it really does nothing to draw you to picking it up for your collection. Better to just rent it.