“Never Let Me Go”
“Never Let Me Go” is one of my favourite novels, for literary and personal reasons. Kazuo Ishiguro is, I think, the best novelist writing in English today, and over the last few years, he has explored alternate realities in the most unsettling ways: “The Unconsoled” is a true masterpiece that could be my Desert Island book, a weird dreamscape even better than “Lanark”.
The problem with converting “Never Let Me Go” to film is that this story of clones bred as human organ repositories has suffered from an audience used to inferior films telling the same story in the Hollywood way, such as “The Island”. Here, Tommy and Kate are never going to rebel, never going for a shoot their way to redemption solution: Ishiguro doesn’t do one-dimensional. He is the master of stoicism, that quiet acceptance of our fate that is ultimately how most humans react to the worst of times. For Stevens in “The Remains of the Day”, his cry against his lot was one day trip to the seaside on an abortive investigation of his feelings for Miss Kenton before his final decision to practice “banter” to please his master; for Tommy, it is one long keening wail when he realises his love for Kate will never gain him a deferral before he acquiesces to the surgeon’s knife for the last donation that will result in “completion”. Both scenes in both books wrench the gut, and, despite filmic tinkering, have much the same effect on screen; but a viewer brought up on a diet of explosions and car chases will ask, “why don’t they do something?” The reality, even in this most unreal of worlds, is that no-one ever does.
I remember seeing “Monster’s Ball” in the cinema years ago, for which Halle Berry deservedly won an Oscar for an outstanding performance as “trailer trash” whose husband has been executed for murder. At the end of the film, the executioner, Billy Bob Thornton, gently outlines his plans for their future together, unaware that she has found out his role in her husband’s death. Berry says nothing, the horror and confusion and dread and hope all played out on her face. As the audience left, I heard someone say, “I didn’t get that. Why did she just blank him?” It’s perhaps the EastEnders generation talking, those who expect every drama to be played out in loud and obnoxious crisis, accompanied by “Riiiiccckkyyyyy!!!” God help us.
This is a gorgeous film, scored perfectly by Rachel Portman. My only query is about a cast that includes Keira Knightley (no I don’t hate her, and think she’s much maligned in some quarters) who is too old for the part of an 18-year-old Ruth. Imagine that – Keira Poutley too old for a part! Andrew Garfield is a sweet lad, suitably gauche and puppyish despite the horrors of his situation, while Charlotte Rampling seems to be settling for those parts in which she’s typecast as a stone-cold bitch. Of course the plaudits go to Carey Mulligan as Kathy, the emotional core of the film, who does a beautiful job of investing utter humanity in a character who is, to all intents and purposes, not considered human. She has the most perfect face to express wisdom and love and compassion in a single look.