It's not often that a filmmaker is able to craft his/her own vision of a film while still staying true to the vision of a novel, but I feel that Never Let Me Go is an exception.
Set in the early eighties in Britain, Never Let Me Go is a fascinating examination of the human condition. Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Tommy (Andrew Garfield), and Ruth (Keira Knightley) live and learn at Hailsham, a boarding school tucked away in the peaceful English countryside. There as long as they can remember, Hailsham is their home. They don't know any differently.
The children at Hailsham are special. They (and we) are constantly reminded of this, and along with their daily regimen of vitamins and exercise, they learn to appreciate their lives even though they don't fully understand what lies ahead.
One day, a new teacher, horrified by the attitudes of those surrounding the children, shatters the illusion of Hailsham and painfully explains to the children just what they are. And what it means for their collective futures.
Soon, the children are eighteen and move to a sort of "halfway house" to await the beginning of their duties to the nation. Ruth and Tommy are now a couple, while Kathy's secret love for Tommy silently boils below the surface of her serene face. While coming to terms with their fates, the three painfully coexist and attempt a chance at "real lives."
But soon, as with all those before them, they are one by one drawn to their fates.
Expertly based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go is a beautiful, yet devastatingly haunting film. With amazing performances by the three main leads (especially Mulligan), the characters are brought to life on screen. The talent of these actors completely held the film, for its bleak storyline and slightly slow-moving script would have been insurmountable if the casting department had experienced an off day. Mulligan really carries the film with a naivety and sweetness that forces the viewer to relate with her, her life, her soul, and her fate. She is able to convey emotions without saying a word, and a single facial movement is a soliloquy.
This film conjures many philosophical debates and makes it amazingly difficult, yet completely understandable, that the people of this alternate universe are so accepting of their world. The former headmistress of Hailsham explains, "You have to accept that sometimes that's how things happen in this world. People's opinions, their feelings, they go one way, then the other. It just so happens you grew up at a certain point in this process."
While the film barely deviates from the novel, I was a little disappointed that the "secret" of Hailsham is revealed so soon. In the novel, the story builds to that point, releasing clues, but never explaining everything, until those clues wash over the reader in a wave of shock and understanding.
Of course, that "secret" is not the main theme of the film, or the novel. The main theme is love and the ways in which it can be shared. How souls intertwine and relationships build... and sometimes crumble.
(Read my (short) review of the novel here.)