Friday, February 24, 2012

Film Review: Never Let Me Go (2010)

When I was in grad school, I had to read Kazuo Ishiguro's novel Never Let Me Go for a Contemporary British Fiction course.  Talk about a trip!  I was familiar with his other novel, Remains of the Day, with its quiet reserve and social conversation.  That was what I expected with this newest novel, but that is not quite the direction it headed in. 

If you're unfamiliar with the synopsis of the novel and movie, it can be halting.  The premise of the story is built around a group of children raised together as what seems to be normal children, sent away to boarding school, to learn and develop skills and talents like any other child.  There are whisperings of odd things to come, but no one knows for certain what it all means or how they might actually be different from other children.  It is only, after various revelations and their development over time that we learn the shocking truth of the real lives these children will one day lead.  In short, they have been genetically engineered for medical use down the road.

There is a love story built into the plot that adds a depth to the tragedy that plays out, but does not take over the entire story altogether.  It's hard to reveal too much, without revealing some of the tragic twists that are revealed over the course of the film and novel, but they really are pretty shocking to learn. We as viewers (and readers) feel as shocked and blindsided by truths as the characters must.

The thing I found interesting about the film is the equal bits of what I like to call sepia-colored-restraint that fell over the film like a mist.  The same restraint that you find in the novel also plays out in the film.  Had I not already been familiar with the book, I would have found some of the conversations and plot twists jarring against the slow moving story.

Original Novel Cover
One of the things I found a bit odd in the film were the details added about their sexual development.  In the book they seemed normal and part of what you would expect for children growing into adulthood, but in the film they felt startling and exaggerated.  I'm not sure if that is one of the differences between the way the subject is taken on by the author versus the film director, or if it is a "Hollywood" device?  I suppose that anything corporeal felt that way in the film though, since so much of it ends up being psychological as you uncover more and more of the truth behind the story.

I can't say that I loved the film, but I didn't love the book either.  I definitely appreciate the genius of Ishiguro and what he accomplishes in so many different ways.  How he manages to going from a calm book about a butler and his worldview to a startling mental thriller really baffles me.  For that, I give the author kudos.  As for the film, I think I need more time to mull it over.

Other Reviews I Appreciated:
Roger Ebert --As typical of his style, Ebert really puts this movie eloquently.
The Guardian --I felt like this article really mirrored my own thoughts.
The New York Times --Great response to the film's methods and message.


  1. I disagree with you for the first time :p I absolutely adored this book. You know, when I first read it I wasn't blown away…but it was a book that haunted me over time and it came to be one of my favs. I just saw the movie recently too and thought they did a really good job. This was a GREAT review Becky :D Hope you're doing good!!!

  2. I STILL don't know what I think about either the movie or the book. Argh. I'm not sure I'll ever understand it well enough to decide.

    1. I liked the book, but maybe felt like the movie was so subtle that it lost the reason behind some of the impact from the book? It was strange!

  3. I haven't read the book yet. I own it, but just hasn't happened. One day!

  4. I have promised myself that this is the year I read Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go--both are on the shelf and both have adaptations I really want to watch.

    Your review has whetted my appetite, if only to compare book to movie!

  5. I'm kind of glad I haven't read or seen either. :P