If you walked away from Michael Bay’s The Island disappointed because the premise brought up in the first quarter of the film didn’t end up being what the film was actually about, I have a film for you. Never Let Me Go is a film involving clones that live for the sole purpose of being used for organ transplants after they reach adulthood. Unlike Bay’s film, the characters do not try to escape from their destiny; they only wish to make the best of the time they’re given.
That’s a bit of a simplification, but it’s pretty much exactly what happens. There’s some nonsense about a way to postpone becoming a donor by a few years if you find true love and “can prove it,” but that comes and goes as a passing dream that does eventually prove important even if the purpose of these donors is inevitable: They will be used to give “real” people their organs, and they will die after a couple of these donations. One character claims that most live through the second or third, but later on we find out that some die after the first. It’s a sad existence, I would assume, but try telling that to eager young children.
Wait a second — that is what happens. Miss Lucy (Sally Hawkins) shows up at the boarding school known as Hailsham for a few days and then blurts out the future to these children. She is later fired and we don’t get to hear from her again. These kids eventually grow up to be fairly attractive movie stars. Carey Mulligan is our narrator and lead named Kathy, Keira Knightley is named Ruth, while Andrew Garfield is Tommy. The characters aren’t given last names, I suppose because they aren’t considered real people.
They live their lives. They’re friends involved in a below-the-surface love triangle, although Ruth and Tommy are romantically linked. Eventually, the pair grows apart. We don’t like to see that, just as we don’t want to see them have their organs removed and given to others. The characters are never considered dead, either; they get “completed” when too many organs have been removed. It’s sad, but this life film doesn’t particularly portray it that way.
The characters all seem to take it in decent enough stride. There are few, if any tears, and when they do cry, it’s not about the inevitable. Generally, they’re sad about events that have already happened in their lives, not the fact that it will end in a few short years. They are genetically engineered beings, “people” with the sole purpose of being used as a way to grow organs for transplant, and they don’t seem to care too much. Maybe if children are told that this is their purpose, they’ll accept it better in adulthood. Or maybe we’re just dealing with really mature (or possibly nihilistic) characters. Either way, you’re not getting a bunch of explosions as the character try to escape their fates.
There’s a late reveal that brings certain ethical problems to the forefront, although it seemed to me to be too little, too late. Should these donors be used in this manner? Should “people” be grown for this purpose? The film takes a stand, but only does so at the end. And when your entire film is based around getting to know these specific beings, I’m sure you can already figure out which side the film takes in this debate. The basic question is: “Is it right to do whatever you can to postpone death?” While that may be what the film is about, it only is specifically addressed near the end; for most of the film, you’ll have to think about it yourself.
This is a very slowly paced film, which may turn off some viewers. There isn’t a lot of things happening here, but we do get to know our characters. Those expecting a lot of story twists or actions throughout will likely be disappointed, although there are a couple of plot twists that, while largely pointless, at least serve to change things up a bit. But there are long sequences when nothing much goes on, and I often felt that I wasn’t actively being engaged in any aspect.
If what you want out of a film is a character drama about three “beings” living their lives, often being broken up so we can skip ahead a few years into the future, then this is your film. There isn’t much of a plot, which means that while you do get to spend a lot of time with these characters, you don’t get to see them doing a whole lot. This can work, and it does to a certain extent here, but since the inevitable is coming up and the characters seem to have accepted this, they’re mostly just biding their time.
There are times, however, when the slow pace and lack of action wore me down. No, we don’t need explosions and chase scenes for more than half the film, but I wanted the characters to be doing something. It almost didn’t matter what, but when they just sit there waiting for death to take them, I can’t be bothered to care or pay attention. When things happen, this is a good film. When they don’t, and all characters do is sit and talk, we find out they’re not too terribly interesting. And that’s when Never Let Me Go fails.
It’s still a good film that’s probably worth your time, but it’s not as entertaining as it could have been because it goes through many lulls which bored me whenever they came about. The characters aren’t as interesting as they needed to be to carry the film, so when their actions are not driving it, we becoming uninterested. The ethical questions are also not brought up early enough to be a factor, which means there’s no true secondary element to hold our attention. It still is a good character drama, but it certainly could have been better.