‘Memories, even your most precious ones, fade surprisingly quickly’

I went to see Never Let Me Go on the 16th February, just a few days after it’s UK release on the 11th. It wasn’t the best day to go and if it was any other film I’d have taken very little convincing to go another day; I love going to the cinema but only if it is a leisurely activity- waiting in queues or rushing to make it in time just don’t do it for me. However, it wasn’t just any film. I had been avidly following the progress of this film for a while, and was getting increasingly impatient to see it. For reasons I haven’t chased up, the UK release date was pushed back to February, a whole 5 months after it was shown on limited release in the USA.

As is often the case with films based on books, there was a lot of interest in how the story would be portrayed on the screen, how faithful the screenplay would be and what would be lost and gained through the course of the transformation. I wouldn’t say I am a dedicated Ishiguro fan and so didn’t have the passion that book lovers often show when their precious favourite novel is lined up for filming,  but I have read Never Let Me Go and like the majority of people, I loved it.

When the cast was revealed, I began to think this film could be something really special- Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan, and Andrew Garfield played the roles of Ruth, Cathy and Tommy. The release of the trailers suggested that Never Let Me Go would be the beautiful, haunting film I so wanted it to be- as I kept saying to David it looked Atonement-esque, which for me was a decidely good thing.

Finally, these posters were released:

As promo material goes, I think these are stunning. I could not wait.

And I can’t hold it in any longer: I was disappointed. I was disappointed because, two weeks on, I can barely remember it. I was disappointed because as good as the performances of the leads were, they didn’t seem to be immersed in the characters to the extent I expected. The setting was good and it was beautifully shot- but it just didn’t seem to go anywhere.

“With Never Let Me Go, Mark Romanek has delivered a graceful adaptation that captures the spirit of the Ishiguro novel — which will be precisely the problem for some viewers.”

I think this succinctly captures the problem I had with Never Let Me Go- it was as subtle, and quietly disconcerting as the novel, but I expected more. By the time the end credits rolled (here I’d just like to note a grumble with the score, which could have been beautiful but was lacking a leitmotif to pull you through) I was wishing they had done more, made more of it. Of course, there were moments of pure, emotive brilliance, how could there not be? When Cathy and Tommy were finally granted an audience with Madame, their understanding of their situation was heartbreaking; but no more so than when I read the book. Never Let Me Go was an artistic, heartfelt vision of Ishiguro’s novel and I’m sure for some this was exactly what they wanted and to do anything else would have been unthinkable, but for me it just wasn’t enough and I was left wondering what it could have been. A truly unforgettable glimpse of a sci-fi future with some amazing performances pulling the audience into their plight? Sadly, I sat through Never Let Me Go and didn’t even cry, let alone march up to the four (FOUR!) people within my eyesight tapping away on their stupid phones (another post entirely) to demand that they pay attention.

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2 Responses to ‘Memories, even your most precious ones, fade surprisingly quickly’

  1. archaism says:

    This is the reason that I tend to steer clear of the Oscar season – often fantastic showcases of acting brilliance, but not necessarily good cinema. I find that when I watch a film like this, clearly aimed at the various award titles, part of my mind is always focussed on “oh, aren’t they doing a good job of this?” And that, in my mind, is not why I go to the cinema. I go (on rare occassion) to the cinema for the story and for the spectacle.

    Now, I’ve not read Never Let Me Go nor, despite my soft spot for Mulligan, seen the film. However, I expect that it’s the kind of story that doesn’t necessarily suit cinema as well as text.

    I mean, it’s no Con Air, is it?

    • letssetsail says:

      Con Air it is not. I think you’ve summed it up, in that the film appeared to tread a line somewhere between “beautiful adaptation to impress come awards season” and “let’s keep this nice and arty to satisfy the fans of the book who are, given the story and the push of the advertising, the people who are going to come and see it”. In hindsight, you could almost see the actors congratulating themselves on a job well done. On the otherhand- given your interest in the texts we studied in Marxism, Psychoanalysis and Culture Theory (if I remember rightly!), I’d definitely recommend you read the book. And, if I haven’t put you off too much, Mulligan is truly fantastic.

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