Author and screenwriter Alex Garland (The Beach, 28 Days Later) knows how to create tension and an almost existential sense of dread from nothing more than the dark and murky thoughts inside the echo chamber of the mind. So, a film collaboration with director Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo) based on an acclaimed novel by Kazuo Ishiguro (The Remains of the Day) should be a surreal and dramatic vision, an especially vivid dreamscape featuring Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield as boarding students in an alternative world where medical science has transformed the world into a seemingly disease-free utopia, but at what should be a shockingly high price.
The leads portray the adult versions of a trio of students at Halversham, a private academy that grooms a most exclusive class eager to leave their mark on the world, although they have no idea what is truly in store for them. They barely have a sense of themselves and having lived in isolation, the world at large is yet another great mystery.
Kathy (Mulligan) feels the butterflies of puppy love early on for Tommy (Garfield), but her best friend Ruth (Knightley) steals him away and sets off a spiral of confrontations both personal and cultural. Popular philosopher-academic Cornel West defines being human as the struggle to live against the certainty of inevitable death. Never Let Me Go seeks to apply a new level of meaning and understanding to this existential dilemma by questioning whether humanity can be granted to someone bred simply as a sacrifice, so that others may live longer.
It is an idea that if it had been matched up with a greater sense of urgency, might have achieved something close to the spark found in Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men. That translation of the PD James thriller about a society struggling to reproduce fought for and earned a degree of spiritual grace in its depiction of the fraying human condition. Instead, what we have here stumbles alongside the adaptation of Blindness, another alternative vision of life and society barely hanging on to its humanity in the face of seismic health dilemmas. The usually reliable Fernando Meirelles (The Constant Gardener) lost sight of the life in Jose Saramago’s prose.
And Romanek’s film, with its romantic complications in tow, is undeniably artful but airless and lacking both a heartbeat and true soul that its characters are striving to prove that they have. (tt stern-enzi)