Couch Pumpkin: Sofa Adventures
News and reviews for the big and small screens…where potatoes fear to tread.

A Matter of Life and Death ~ Never Let Me Go

Based on Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2005 novel of the same name, Never Let Me Go is a genre-defying drama that lingers on in the mind long after viewing. Quiet, understated and poignant, it is a beautifully made film that manages to tackle some weighty themes at the same time as packing an emotional punch.

It is also extremely difficult to talk about without revealing the main concept. Ishiguro himself (who I was lucky enough to see in a Q+A after the film) has no problem with this – he has always erred on the side of being upfront about the premise. However, just in case you want to avoid ‘spoilers’, I will warn you to look away now…

The story follows three friends – Kathy, Ruth and Tommy – played (excellently) by Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and (<3) Andrew Garfield. They meet at Hailsham School, a seemingly idyllic English boarding school which hides a dark secret: its students are clones, bred for an organ replacement programme which has banished disease from the alternative universe where the story takes place. Constrained by the role they were born for, they gradually grow to full awareness of their situation, tragically accompanied by the pain of normal adulthood – including falling in love.

It’s been several years since I read the novel, so I found myself making few direct comparisons. Even so, it’s clear that the film puts more emphasis on Kathy and Tommy’s romance, with Kathy and Ruth clear rivals from the start. This is in someways a reduction of the novel’s complexity, but it still allows us to reach the same conclusion. The clones are human, in every way that counts. It is the wilful blindness of privileged society that consigns them to death; the film emphasises this point with one of its most haunting scenes, in which Ruth’s corpse is coldly left open and bleeding on the operating table like a farm animal.

Some details and nuances of the novel leave a hole in the film by their absence, such as Kathy’s childhood longing for her non-existent mother. With Kathy’s narrative extremely pared down we get less of a sense of her character, and there is a slide towards portraying her as a long-suffering goody two shoes up against Ruth’s bitterness.

This is but a small gripe. The film is still able to explore various ideas – the nature of oppression, the fundmentals of humanity, the inevitability of death and the importance of relationships amongst others. It manages to do this without preaching, and underscores it all with some beautifully evocative imagery – such as the empty shell of an old boat, beached on the Norfolk shore, which surely reminds us of the characters’ unfulfilled potential. Ishiguro emphasised his satisfaction with the film, something which shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Ishiguro also talked about one of the story’s most important features. Unlike that other film about clones, The Island, our heroes don’t try to outrun their fate, but instead passively accept what is to happen to them; this passivity is echoed in the film’s slow pace and generally quiet tone. Thanks to that, even when I knew what was coming, the heartbreak snuck up on me.

Definitely one to watch, and if you haven’t read the book that’s also worth reading.

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