Monday, February 21, 2011

Never Let Me Go - Home Video Review

Theatrical Release Date: September 15, 2010

I saw the trailer for this film and had heard some really good things about it along with some really middle of the road things as well. But for the life of me I never knew how deeply philosophical it would end up being. Perhaps it just went over my head at first but when the text that opens the film appeared on screen and informed me about a medical breakthrough I was slightly caught off guard. I thought this was a love story involving three friends and the bonds they make and break during their younger years. Imagine how surprised I was when I realized that this film was tackling much greater issues.

Review Vital Stats:
Format: Blu-ray
Player: LG Model 370
Picture Quality: High-Definition
Sound Quality: High-Definition

Loves: Carey Mulligan, Believable Sci-Fi
Likes: Andrew Garfield, Love triangle plots
Neutral: Keira Knightly
Hates: Sad movies (but in a good way)
Not Surprised: Yet another movie that was completely overlooked last year

Director Mark Romanek's film based off the novel by author Kazuo Ishiguro is not a very uplifting feature, but don't let that deter you. While it may start out with a somewhat optimistic look at the lives of three particular friends (whom we follow from the 1970's up into the 1990's), that optimism slowly turns to bitter realism as they and us begin to understand what the future truly holds for them. The strange sensation I got while watching the film though was one of a celebration of life. Even when things don't go the way we think they should (as life often does) there is always a sense of things turning out OK in the end. Never Let Me Go is an odd film in that it filled me with a deep feeling of melancholy while also impressing upon me that no matter how bleak things can get that we should never give up on our hopes and dreams.

We first meet our three friends, Kathy H (Carey Mulligan) Ruth M (Keira Knightly) and Tommy D (Andrew Garfield) as grade schoolers (played by younger actors of course) at the Hailsham School for special children during the 1970's. The school first appears to be like any other private schooling facility with a classic look to it and all the children in proper uniforms. They go to class, have their daily lunches, and play sports just like any other children but we know that there isn't something quite right about the whole set up. We were told at the opening of the film that there had been a medical breakthrough that had made it possible for the majority of people to live well beyond the age of 100. What could a scientific or medical breakthrough have to do with these children? That miracle of science is none other than the ability to clone another human being. But how does cloning a person allow them to live a longer life and how does it effect our three main characters?

Kathy is wise beyond her years.

That is where the students at the Hailsham school come in, we find out every single child at that school is in fact a clone and they are being raised and cared for with one sole purpose in mind. The catch is that when they get older and get to that point in their lives where they would normally start living their lives they are put into what is called the National Donor Programme. Every student at that school (and from other facilities we are told) are destined to become a donor. These donations are manditory and each one of them must continue to donate until the day comes when they complete (another word for die).As young children they are told the reality of their situation quite plainly by one of the only people in their school, Miss Lucy (Sally Hawkins), that seems to care enough about them to tell them the truth. And that truth is that they will never grow up to become a teacher, a doctor, a scientist, a lawyer, a race car driver, or any other of the hundreds of opportunities that awaits a normal child. They are all destined to become donors and that is just the way it is.

Now, in your normal or shall I say your typical story involving people that find out they are clones or just being oppressed in some manner we would usually see them try to rebel or break free of this fate that has been bestowed upon them. That is where Never Let Me Go differs from those other stories because these kids actually accept what is to become of them. Sure, they have pipe dreams of finding some way to postpone the whole process (rumors float around about a way to postpone donations if you are truly in love with someone) but for the most part they attempt to live their lives with what little time they have. And that is where the heart and soul of the film resides, we see through the eyes and lives of Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy how this process is handled and ultimately how they handle it as well. During that course of time we see how each of them decide to live the short lives they have been given and how it effects them both mentally and worldly.

Tommy and Ruth are together for other reasons than love.

This is not a story about clones, the cloning process or even about the people that receive the donations. This is a story about love, friendship, and the enduring human spirit. I mentioned before about this being a love story, well there is most certainly a range of emotions between the three friends but I think the word love may be a bit misleading in respect to certain characters. You see, one of the main themes of the film, at least from my understanding of the material, is how fickle life is and how we don't always have enough time to rectify poor or ill-timed decisions let alone finding the time to actually regret them. I found that idea a fascinating one, I mean we all as human beings can go at any moment but to know when your time is up puts a whole new spin on the idea of making the right choices. If I made a bad decision in my early twenties (which I have, trust me) I would have the time to make up for it now in my thirties. But imagine if you didn't have the time to even realize that you made a bad decision, that is one of the main ideas presented here that completely gripped me.

There are most certainly other aspects of the film to applaud as well. By allowing us to follow the lives of our three main characters from (almost) birth up until their final (?) moments it gives us some very deceptively complex situations to behold. People are sometimes selfish, sometimes loving, and most definitely complicated. Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy represent all of those traits amongst many others and their relationships with one another are put to the test numerous times as they grow up into adulthood. Anyone looking for a romantic comedy style love triangle film need not apply, this is a film that demands your heart and mind. Another hefty question the film asks is whether or not someone born in an unnatural way has a mortal soul. Does the fact that a person can be creative, show inspiration or even display true love mean that they also have a soul? These are questions the film delves in head first to tackle and while the answers may not be clear cut or even discovered to any satisfying conclusion, it is the mere fact that questions like that are asked at all that makes this film much more than simple romance.

One of their trips into the "real" world leaves them at a loss for words.

I must talk about the performances that our three leads give because quite honestly this film (story not withstanding) wouldn't be worth a dam if we didn't have characters we could invest in. Kathy is the moral center of the three, she carries herself almost like a martyr, someone that is willing to sit on the sidelines and let others take the fame as she does her own thing. She loves Tommy but she also knows that her best friend Ruth loves him as well (even if it is a shallow sort of love) and she is perfectly willing to let things be. Carey Mulligan was the perfect choice for Kathy, her reserved and almost reluctant portrayal of Kathy helped give the film the person we needed to latch on to. If nothing else, I wanted Kathy to come out of this story intact and that is owed to the written word and Carey Mulligan's nuanced performance.

Her co-stars did admirably in their own right. Keira Knightly as Ruth was the perfect bitch to Carey Mulligan's softness. Maybe it was a blending of my general thoughts on her as an actress combined with her ability to play the shrew without a hitch but most of her early scenes when they are at the cottage made me just want to reach out and slap her. It was done flawlessly though and fit right in with how many women behave around that age which was in stark contrast to Mulligan's more mature Kathy. Then there is Andrew Garfield as Tommy...I thought he did a phenomenal job here. After seeing him in The Social Network with the amount of confidence he displayed for that character I was taken aback by Tommy's naivety. He is so full of wonder and hope and Garfield expressed that most of the time without saying a single word.

Kathy attempts to find if there is any truth behind the rumors.

I haven't really spoken much about the look of the film or any of the technical aspects for which I apologize. The film looks gorgeous, every shot is composed to look almost like a still photograph and the warm color palette that is present throughout the film gives it all a very cozy feeling that sits just right. There isn't much left to say, I will re-iterate once again though that while this is a fairly sad film it still brings with it a slight sense of hope. Not hope in the way where things will turn out all right but in the way that there is always going to be something over the horizon that was well worth the ordeals faced while trying to get there. If the film had one message for me it was that if you can find even just one bit of happiness in the world then all the pain and suffering experienced wasn't all for nothing.

Does being in love mean you have a soul?


What's on the disc?

Any fans of the film will most likely find any of the extra features here to be a little lacking. You get some fun stuff like a good yet standard behind the scenes featurette along with a couple of image galleries but that's about it. For a film that felt like a passion project for the director there sure wasn't much passion put into this Blu-ray release.

The Secrets of Never Let Me Go HD (30:00.) - Your basic behind the scenes look at the making of the film. About the only thing I found to be of interest were the segments involving the original author and his insights into the out of the ordinary aspects of the story he had created.

Mark Romanek's On-Set Photographs HD (3:12) - A series of still images from the director of the film.

Tommy's Art HD (2:34.) - A collection of the art that Tommy D shows off. Interesting but ultimately pointless.

National Donor Programme & Hailsham Campaign Graphics  HD (2:00.) - A series of props for the two main places the characters in the film are located. This one I found kind of odd because most of everything here was never used in the film. At the very least it wasn't in frame at any particular time long enough to see.

Theatrical Trailer HD -The films theatrical trailer.


Final Verdict:

What a fantastic film, the acting is superb, the story is original, imaginative, and heartbreaking. I cannot think of any flaws that would actually detract from it. Perhaps if you don't think there is any value in the themes it explores but other than that I can find no fault. The Blu-ray offers up a limited and basic set of extras but the audio and video for the disc are great which complements this equally as great film perfectly.


Blu-ray                              DVD
Never Let Me Go [Blu-ray]       Never Let Me Go


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