The high-concept premise of Kazuo Ishiguro’s bestseller Never Let Me Go, and its inevitable movie adaptation, is meant to be treated as metaphor—as a means of exploring ideas and themes rather than, you know, making cold, logical sense. Still, it’s hard to resist being a bit of a scrutinizing smart-ass.
Set in an alternate present-day, the film’s doomed young heroes—played by current “It” girl Carey Mulligan, former “It” girl Keira Knightley and future Spider-Man Andrew Garfield—have a secret: Like the characters in Michael Bay’s The Island, they’ve been bred solely to be organ donors. As soon as they hit their mid-20s, they start losing vital body parts; by round three or four, they’ve “reached completion.”
For starters: Has no one seen Logan’s Run (much less The Island)? While the protagonists are children, the rumors of the grisly ends in store for kids who escape to freedom might deter runaways. But would they still believe such tall tales into young adulthood, especially once they’re allowed to partially enter the real world and even get access to cars? (Cars!) How about just not reporting to the O.R.? And the notion that society would accept human organ-harvesting with (we’re told) little to no ethical debate is preposterous, when even stem-cell research sends people into spasms.
What Never Let Me Go does offer is an unnerving exercise in subjectivity. We only see what our three leads see, which is precious little. Their tragedy is that they’ve been intentionally underdeveloped as people; they know little of art outside of one random cassette tape and bad American sitcoms, and the film tries to mimic its characters’ state—something that works in theory, but in practice is a one-note dirge.
Director Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo) once made music videos (“Jeremy,” “Hurt”), yet his film is 80 percent shots of sad people standing around sadly. It’s literal-minded, pat, self-satisfied and light on thought; the realization that we all “reach completion” at one point or another would be more affecting had it not been put into climactic voiceover.
And yet, doomed kids growing up without hope is still doomed kids growing up without hope. Not even a persistently goopy score can stop it from ruining your day.