Never Let Me Go opens with a title card that tells about a "great breakthrough" in 1952 which, by 1967, causes average life expectancy to surpass 100 years. Without rushing towards an explanation, the film soon makes it clear that this "breakthrough" has something to do with students being raised in a "special" boarding school in 1970s Britain.
This quiet sci fi drama, divided into three sections (1978, 1985, and 1994), follows three of the students, played post-pubescently by Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, and Keira Knightley. Although I don't want to give any more away, it's hard to discuss the story without touching on who – or what – these people actually are. I will say this, though: Kazuo Ishiguro, on whose novel this film is based, is the MVP here. His story does what science fiction is meant to do, using futuristic elements to shed light on today's human condition.
What Never Let Me Go left with me was the question of why we see our "inferiors" – children, immigrants, the poor – as somehow less human than we are. My vegan wife also noted that the film reminded her of how people pretend that the animals they eat do not have feelings of their own. Indeed, the story can serve as a metaphor for many things. Kudos to Ishiguro for his thought-provoking concept. Not as much kudos to Mark Romanek, best known for directing edgy music videos and the so-so 2002 Robin Williams thriller One Hour Photo. (Never Let Me Go is only his third feature in twenty-five years.) The visuals he creates with cinematographer Adam Kimmel are lovely, but his staging is riddled with cliches.
The cast is fine, though, and Rachel Portman's score is haunting. For a film in which not much happens, Never Let Me Go just whizzes on by. I was surprised at how quickly it was over. (Its running time is an hour and 43 minutes.) I mention this because I felt that the story had more to say – not about its ideas, but about its characters. So while I generally liked the film, I found it slightly lacking. The goal of the story, given its themes, should be to get us to love these three characters, or at least get to know them very well. The natural likability of Mulligan and Garfield draws us close, but not close enough to fully connect. Finally, some viewers may have trouble accepting the characters' sense of servitude without question, which is a common trait in Ishiguro's work. His most notable other novel: The Remains of the Day.