When I hear a term like "clones," I immediately think of the future. A time where there are robots and flying cars and other elements taken straight from Back to the Future Part II. In films like that one it's easier to write it all off as fantasy since it seems so far away. But Never Let Me Go puts human clones in the late 20th century — a period we've already lived through. The story is neither flashy nor futuristic, but a quietly haunting tale that falls somewhere between a sci-fi movie and a fable.
Kathy H. (Carey Mulligan) is our narrator, a 28-year-old woman reflecting on her childhood in England in the late '70s and beyond. At Hailsham boarding school, Kathy made her first memories, many of which involve chasing her crush Tommy (Andrew Garfield) under the scornful eye of her best friend Ruth (Keira Knightley). The students have no reason to question their upbringing: the constant reminders to "keep their insides healthy" and the regular check-ins with doctors are simply part of the only world they've ever known. But a new guardian named Miss Lucie changes their lives forever when she feels morally compelled to tell her students the truth about their lives: they are clones, created for the sole purpose of donating their vital organs upon adulthood. Once they can't endure any more surgeries, they'll have "completed" their lives. To see why this film is worth seeing, just read more.
The film is based on Kazuo Ishiguro's novel, and for the most part, it's a loyal adaptation. Director Mark Romanek tells the story as simply and straightforward as possible: there's no masking the film's dark undertones. But in the midst of the gray clouds and hushed tones there's a glimmer of light in a love story between Kathy and Tommy that feels epic though ill-fated.
Mulligan shines yet again, giving a performance that's refined and effortless. As Kathy watches her best friends and takes in the world around her, there's more acceptance than sadness behind her eyes, as if she's privy to a secret that the other characters aren't aware of. Ruth and Tommy play out their frustrations about their fate in more obvious ways, and Garfield and Knightley provide just the right amount of support as their characters give in to their anger.
The film is filled with messages, but at the same time it's hard to decipher what exactly you're supposed to take away from it. The lives of Ruth, Tommy, and Kathy are like any other characters in any other movie; in fact, you don't realize how they're perceived in the real world until one graphic scene of "completion." It's a jarring snap back to reality, but is the meaning of the movie to relish the time you have together? To fight for love? To fight for anything? We'll never get a solid answer, but it's a testament to how unique and affecting the film is.
Never Let Me Go is a subdued film, but like the clones themselves, you can't judge it based on visuals alone. Beneath its simple exterior are universal messages about love, loneliness, and living your life to the fullest — no matter how short or long it may be.