Saturday, April 02, 2011

Never Let Me Go: Grade D


Never Let Me Go (2010)

Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield; Director Mark Romanek.

This film represents a failure of execution, not story, because the novel is a subtle and powerful exploration of unfulfilled love. Author Ishigura’s deeply interior work can be successfully filmed, as demonstrated in The Remains of the Day. But in this case, the director and screenwriter could not find the cinematic language to express the story (despite Ishigura himself being an executive producer). We can only imagine what went wrong.

Three children are raised with dozens of others in a bucolic English boarding school, in an opening section that could easily have been edited to half its length. When they are preteen, the children are informed that they are clones, not real humans, and their purpose is to donate their organs upon maturity. For reasons unknown, they accept this fate.

As the three friends reach young adulthood they begin to fulfill their mission. They seem intelligent, well-educated and articulate, but inexplicably, never question their self-sacrificial mission, nor do they discuss what it means to be a clone “rather than” a human.

The worthy sci-fi theme of the story then is, would a clone have a soul? But this theme is not explored, hardly touched upon. Instead the focus is on the love triangle among the threesome. That could have been a good story, but the pace is so slow and the dialog so deadening that we just don’t believe in it. A final theme arises from the threesome’s belated self-awareness that they are ambivalent about their mission. That could have been a great story also. But despite their doubts, the characters unaccountably plod on.

Even if a decent editor had trimmed the prodigious deadwood out of the movie, I don’t think the remaining scenes would be sufficient: the story is just not well told. The cringeworthy maudlin music is unable to disguise the movie's lack of dramatic tension.

Keira Knightly, in a ridiculous jet-black wig (which the marketing people obviously tried to tone down on the DVD cover) is inert. She does not live up to her acting reputation. That is inexcusably bad directing. Mulligan (who was fantastic in An Education) has such an expressive face that she fills the screen even when she has no lines. Garfield (buddy to Zuckerman in The Social Network) turns in an admirable performance. Those acting virtues (barely) save this movie from the tragic failure it need not have been.

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