A trio of schoolchildren are bound by a shocking secret in Mark Romanek’s Never Let Me Go. Although it has been couched as a sci-fi thriller, the movie is actually a beautiful and bittersweet love story between two of the central characters. It’s as poignant and tragic as any great love story out there.
Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Tommy (Andrew Garfield), and Ruth (Keira Knightly) all attended a sprawling English boarding school when they were children. Apparently they were orphans, and they were treated well by their caretakers and teachers.
However, there is a sinister aspect to the school. A “no tolerance” rule is strictly enforced for those for those who wander off the school’s property. They never have any visitors. Broken, discarded toys are brought in for the children to “buy” with currency they have earned. The whole institution seems completely devoid of joy or any emotion, for that matter. It seems like a horribly lonely existence, particularly for a child.
Kathy finds herself drawn to Tommy, a gentle, quirky boy. The two develop a deep rooted friendship, and it is clear that they are destined to be with one another. Kathy’s beautiful friend Ruth feels threatened by their special relationship, and callously drives a wedge between the two. Tommy is easily captivated, and Kathy is easily defeated. The star-crossed children never realize the potential of their feelings for one another.
While they are at the school, the three also find out the horrifying truth about their ultimate fates. The pall of the truth looms over the rest of their childhood and teenage years.
The three remain inseparable, living together after they graduate in special housing that has been set aside for graduates of their school. Tommy and Ruth become lovers, and Kathy is relegated to third wheel. It is painful to watch Kathy stoically accept Tommy and Ruth’s relationship. Ruth passive-aggressively flaunts their sexual relationship in front of Kathy, which is cruel and unnecessary.
The three finally part ways, and their lives go in very different directions. A decade later, the three reconnect (under less than desirable circumstances, to say the least.) Kathy finally gets to confront Ruth, and Kathy and Tommy rediscover their feelings for one another.
The sad tale of missed opportunities is gut-wrenching and depressing. These young adults have already had enough curve-balls thrown at them, can’t they just have a moment of happiness?
If you can get beyond the bleak premise, this is a wonderfully crafted and superbly acted film. Special note should be taken of the young actors who portray Ruth, Kathy and Tommy as children. They are really fantastic, and play a significant role in the movie. Not only are they good actors, but they look remarkably like their adult counterparts, particularly Kathy. It’s amazing.
If the children in the movie had been gimmicky or unconvincing, the whole movie would have crumbled. They set the tone and establish the relationships that we respond to for the duration of the film.
Carey Mulligan, in particular, shines as the adult Kathy. After last year’s An Education, and now this, there is no doubt she is one of the finest (and understated) actresses working today. Keira Knightly is delicate and appropriately frail as the adult Ruth.
Andrew Garfield is saddled with a bit of an odd role, I didn’t like him here as much as I did in The Social Network, but he is more than serviceable. It is also a treat to see Charlotte Rampling as a icy headmistress, and Sally Hawkins (Happy Go Lucky) as a kindly schoolteacher who takes it upon herself to tell the children the truth.
This is another film that is bound to generate controversy and discussion about the moral and ethical implications of the story. It’s definitely worth a watch, despite the heavy story.
Never Let Me Go is directed by Mike Romanek. Starring Keira Knightly, Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, and as the young children; Izzy Meikle-Small, Charlie Rowe, and Ella Purnell. The film opens in theaters everywhere today.