The haunting Never Let Me Go (2010), is directed by Mark Romanek and is based on the award winning 2005 novel of the same name by Japanese-born British author Kazuo Ishiguro. Adapted for the screen by Alex Garland, Never Let Me Go is only the third feature film to be directed by Romanek, who is also an acclaimed music video director.
Romanek's first feature film Static (1985), quickly found a cult audience in the UK but the director decided to work within the music video medium through a division of Propaganda Films, a production company founded by producers Steve Golin and Sigurjón Sighvatsson and directors David Fincher, Nigel Dick, Greg Gold and Dominic Sena.
Romanek's work is highly recognisable to mainstream audiences, as he has worked with many high profile artists, musicians and bands. Romanek is responsible for the dark and disturbing imagery of Nine Inch Nails' Closer and The Perfect Drug. In 1996 Romanek received a Grammy Award for his direction of Scream, the seven million dollar Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson music video. Two years later, Romanek received another Grammy for his direction of Got 'Til It's Gone, also for Janet Jackson.
The explosive and intense video for Audioslave's Cochise remains a firm fan favourite, as does Romanek's remarkable music video for Johnny Cash's cover of the Nine Inch Nails song Hurt. This delicate and personal music video combined archival footage of Cash, with a quiet performance of the song, within Cash's own home. The music video received much industry and public attention due to the intimate nature, and earned Romanek his third well deserved Grammy Award.
I mention all these visionary and provocative commercial works, because Never Let Me Go marks a new era for Romanek, as his latest feature film is a subtle and mature masterpiece. Romanek's previous feature film was the underrated 2002 psychological thriller One Hour Photo, which featured a heightened reality. It was a film through the eyes of Seymour "Sy" Parrish, portrayed by Robin Williams. Sy often fantasied, in an attempt to escape his mundane, ordinary, lonely existence and over the course of several years had developed a dangerous fascination with the Yorkin family, desperately trying to become a part of their 'picture-perfect' world. Never Let Me Go, shares this similar theme with One Hour Photo, as it depicts a trio of dreamers desperately wanting to change their fate.
Never Let Me Go is a restrained feature compared to Romanek's previous works. Divided into three acts, the film is narrated by 28-year-old Kathy H. (Carey Mulligan), who reminisces about her childhood at Hailsham, an English boarding school. Kathy we learn was a bright and curious girl who befriended Tommy (Andrew Garfield), a well meaning but emotional boy, who was often bullied by his classmates, due to his frequent tantrums and outbursts. Kathy and Tommy's friendship swiftly develops and it's obvious they care for one another, but Ruth, Kathy's much more confident friend and the extrovert amongst the three, decides she likes Tommy. At this boarding school, the children are not taught any life skills, however their physical health is of the utmost importance.
As young adults Kathy, Tommy and Ruth live on the outskirts of society, with other young adults, who went to similar boarding schools as them. In this environment, they are each forced to come to terms with their eventual fate and Kathy, as a result of the escalating relationship between Tommy and Ruth, hastily decides to leave the cottage and become a carer. Years pass and Kathy is rather accepting of her position in life, however when she unexpectedly comes face to face with Ruth, who now lives a guilt ridden existence, she is forced to reconcile her childhood.
Romanek envisions this alternative utopian world, as devoid of colour and without hope. The performances from Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley, are to be applauded, as well as the brilliant supporting cast, which includes Sally Hawkins, Charlotte Rampling, and the three main child actors, Izzy Meikle-Small, Charlie Rowe and Ella Purnell.
Kathy, Tommy and Ruth go through several emotional transformations through the course of the feature, and eventually, in the final act their eyes become weary and sullen and they walk with the weight of the world on their shoulders. It is a cruel existence. Never Let Me Go is a heartbreaking beautiful and thought provoking tale of love and sacrifice.
I saw this film a few months ago and I have also just finished reading the book. Both are excellent, although I recommend if you liked the film to read the book. It's a fantastic piece of literature and it will explain some very important points that are left out of the movie (which ultimately answers our questions and doubts). For those who only see the film, it can be a bit hard to understand why they are really stuck in their situation and why they can't just escape.