Never Let Me Go

Monday, 23 May 2011

never let me go

never let me go

never let me go

never let me go

never let me go

never let me go

never let me go

never let me go

never let me go

never let me go

never let me go

never let me go

never let me go

never let me go

never let me go

never let me go

never let me go

never let me go

never let me go

never let me go

never let me go

never let me go

never let me go

never let me go

I finally saw Never Let Me Go, and I cried all the way through it. As someone who came to the film having read the novel it's based on, Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, I was astounded by how the film overpowered the novel in terms of emotional strength and sensitivity. Ishiguro's novel is superbly written, yet it is cold and clinical in tone. I didn't cry reading it. This is perhaps the point for a novel whose main characters are human clones created for the purpose of harvesting their organs and body parts. They are created for pure clinical purposes with a careless disregard for their own humanity and feelings. I felt though that I should have walked away from reading the novel deeply empathising with Kathy, Tommy, Ruth and the other cloned human beings, but I didn't. The film however, not only made me empathise, but it also made me angry along with them.

The film completely draws you into their world, their minds, their emotions and their bodies, so you can't help but feel angry at their inevitable fate and the sense of frustration that they cannot do anything to change such a fate. They are essentially created as sacrificial lambs for the diseases of others, harvested like livestock for healthy body parts and organs, parcelled off in one brutal surgery after another until they die. In the midst of this, the enormity of what they could have been had their lives not been created for this sole purpose becomes clear, so that by the end of the film, the question of whether they have a 'soul' or not seems entirely absurd and offensive.

I felt myself drawing constant parallels between Kathy, Tommy and Ruth, and victims of war in concentration camps. We gradually view their physical decline, until they literally look like concentration camps survivors. Yet the parallels are deeper than that. Tommy, Kathy and Ruth are also entered into a linguistic and metaphorical system of dehumanisation right from the start. All the characters speak about 'donations' and 'completions' as euphemisms for what really occurs to the cloned human beings: mutilation and murder. It reminds me of the way the Nazis spoke about their own mutilated and murdered victims in language that downplayed their humanity and what was really happening to them. In Nazi lingo, Jews weren't human beings, they were a 'disease', a 'problem' that needed 'eradicating' with some good 'medicine'. Likewise, their mass slaughter was not named as such, but was called 'the final solution', almost like Ishiguro's terminology of 'completion'. Never Let Me Go is an acute and stunning portrayal of how language can be used in violent ways and is just as powerful as a knife or gun when it comes to undertaking mass murder and dehumanising people. Of course, this is something which the film owes to the novel it is based on.

However, something which I believe the film adds to the novel is a clear and necessary sense of rage. In the last few scenes when we watch Tommy screaming in a giant cry of injustice and anguish, I was so physically involved in his anger that I started to shake. What superb acting by Andrew Garfield, but also, what a haunting image of a righteous rage. Throughout this scene, I thought of Sophie Scholl's words:

The real damage is done by those millions who want to 'survive.' The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves—or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honour, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn. (quote from here.)

I felt the film's ending was a direct plea along the lines of Scholl's words: we must each burn our way with Tommy, Ruth and Kathy. We must not accept such dehumanisation, because to do so, would be to live small and die small. The plot of the film may be pure science fiction, and indeed, I can only hope that it remains so. But the metaphoric heart of the film is something that has always been and will always be relevant: the value of life and the desire to fight for it, no matter who you are or how you were born.


andrea said...

Great review! I liked the book more than the film, but what you wrote has made me want to revise them both taking your opinion into account.

Caitlin Rose said...

Beautiful review Hila.
I never made the connection with the Holocaust, but it is definitely acute. I haven't read the book, but I did find the film incredibly powerful.

SJ said...

i haven't read the book or seen the film, they've both been on my 'to read/see' lists but now you've give me the kick up the butt with this review to finally check them out.
beautiful as always :)

P R I M O E Z A said...

i enjoyed this a lot and saw it on the basis on one of your earlier posts. on a more superficial note, i've never seen school uniforms look so appealing!

Galit said...

I read just a couple lines and stopped as I haven't read the book but am going to do so now, and then see the movie and THEN come back to read your review!
I was about to read it so many times but somehow didn't get to it but am now very intrigued.

amy said...

oh hila, what a beautiful review!

jodeska said...

It's not often a movie version does a novel justice let alone add more depth. I wanted to watch this movie because it looked gorgeous, but I HAD to read about it. Once I did I realised it'd be too emotional and upsetting for me!
Love the review x

mnemonique said...

Well, I heard about this movie, and I plant to see it, but as far as I know it is still not in Poland. But I love Michelle Williams and Keira Knightely. The pictures from the movie are beautiful - so dreamy!
Hugs from

Petra said...

thanks for this great review. I was torn as to if I should watch the movie/read the book, and if in what order. I think I have to wait with both reading/watching after what you just said because either might be a bit much for me right now, but I will def keep your words in mind for later on when I'm in the right place to handle a story like this better. thanks again!

tywo said...

I enjoyed this film. I cried all the way through.


Sally said...

This film absolutely gutted me when I saw it, it haunted and hurt me to the point that I almost wanted to shun it. But you've reminded me of some of its beauty and maybe I can try watching it again someday now.

Danielle P. said...

I found myself overwhelmed simply by reading your review of this movie... I'll have to watch it for myself once I feel strong enough to take it all in.

Principia said...

on an entirely random note, I adore Tommy's artwork in this movie.

Victoria said...

hila this is beautiful.

Dichotomous Darling said...

I thoroughly loved the novel. Ishiguro's words left me stunned, amazed. I have to agree that often times it felt clinical. One of the things I adore about the movie is the raw emotion.

I was drawn to tears, I shook with rage. It's a very powerful adaption and I can't imagine it having been done any better. Aside from the stunning acting, the cinematography is just breathtaking.

Your review raises some very interesting points about both the novel and the movie. I find myself agreeing with your words.

Siubhan said...

Great review. My boyfriend and I watched it together in the cinema - I cried all the way through it, like you, and he came out feeling like the acting was so cold that he couldn't identify enough with the characters. I thought that was interesting, actually, as I strongly felt that the clinical, cold atmosphere is what made the whole thing so poignant (and Tommy's outburst so heart-wrenching) and was conveyed fantastically through the acting.

I hadn't considered it in terms of the Holocaust, but the parallels are quite startling. The power of euphemistic language is something that is used and abused too often even today, and what you have written is a thought-provoking lesson on the damage it can wreak.

I'm also very admiring of the Sophie Scholl quotation you used - I worked on a book about her once, and have been fascinated ever since. It's very inspiring.

Ringo, have a banana! said...

I have to be honest--I really did not care for the book. I thought it was a true waste of a really interesting, unsettling premise, and I ended up just feeling annoyed that I wasted a few days of my life on it last summer! There's so much I find implausible about the story and the characters and how the clones react to their situation. Mostly though, I just didn't care about any of them. I felt no emotional or personal attachment to anyone, or anything, in that story.

I totally agree that the movie actually improved on the book, for me, which is rare to say the least. I still didn't really enjoy it, but the cinematography and general mise-en-scene was beautiful. And Carey Mulligan was wonderful to watch, as usual.

andrea despot said...

i also came to the movie having previously read the book, though it had been a few years and i'd forgotten most of it. what you wrote about the use of language is so profound and so true... what an interesting connection!

also like you, i felt tommy's rage so deeply in that scene and was left staring wide-eyed at the screen in horror. a superbly acted movie all around! another scene that really struck me was of ruth lying on the operating table after "completion." it really conveyed the truth of what they ultimately had to face and was so powerfully done, with her body just lying there.

another thing i loved about the movie was all the little "still lifes." i love that you captured some of them here!

sight said...

Beautiful review, a powerful piece of writing about a powerful film.

dulci said...

lovely stills!

Tana said...

it was hard to watch it! agree the film really draws into their world, thoughts. Very painful to realise that they were just like the elements in that endless conveyor for donation, it was hard to see their docility,but it was harder to live and understand that one day you`ll receive a letter. the final scenes were powerful. and i hope too that it remains the science fiction.

anabela / fieldguided said...

I felt the same way about the book -- cold, clinical, but I felt that way about much of the acting in the movie as well. The movie did add more depth, but I found myself wishing that parts of the book were in the movie. I am glad, though, that neither the book nor the movie were over-wrought or came with perfect, neat little endings.

Molly said...

Oh dear. I am infamous for becoming way too emotionally invested in films (even simple, brainless movies) and now I completely torn about watching this one! The stills you included are mesmerizing, those three actors I love, and I am deeply interested in seeing the parallels you've drawn for myself. But the thought of facing that raw emotion is somehow terrifying. What a powerful film, to have such influence over those who haven't even seen it!

Susanna-Cole King said...

Oh, I think this is in my film queue. Heard quite a bit of buzz about it, lots of friends overseas have seen it, less so stateside. Your reviews hold a great weight in my mind, in a good way. Have you seen Sophie Scholl: The Final Days?

I don't fancy detachment, I think the greatest films are the ones that make you feel deeply, and of course, this applies to any medium of art, as well. It doesn't matter what feeling, really, (it can be rage), as long as it's there.

Belated thanks for your comments and the book recommendation! Hope you are well, my friend.

soph (owl vs. dove) said...

This is so excellently put. I am yet to read the book, but am always hearing about the differences between the two. I don't know how I'd go about reading the book after already seeing the film. It just struck such a chord that I don't want the book to take anything away from the film. If that makes any sense? Or maybe I should just read the book and follow it up with another viewing of the film. I think I just answered my own question!

herecomesthesun said...

Hila, what a fantastic review! I absolutely loved this movie also and was completely captivated and gripped the whole time. I was so drawn into what the characters were going through that I also cried and and ached on their behalf. Love every word you've written here and agree with them all. I haven't yet read the book but now I am intrigued to so that I can draw my own comparisons. Thank you!

Louise said...

I have two movie passes itching to be used and after reading your review I feel this is the perfect film to use them on. xolj

Olga said...

Terrific review. You describe the ideas and moments that can easily slip by unnoticed.

CloudyKim said...

Oh my gosh, THANK YOU for posting this! I did in fact read the book. My brother had to read it as a collective college freshman reading requirement, and he had passed it on to me after he was done. The book sat on my shelf for a long time until I heard about the film being made, so then I remembered it and promptly plowed through it.

I felt exactly the same as you about the book, which is why your review really hit home for me. I did feel bad, but not about what really mattered in the book. I wanted Kate to end up with Tommy, and then was disappointed when they did - even that seemed deflated due to the emotionless, clinical writing. I felt disappointed that everything seemed downplayed in the book. I was disturbed by the fact that I couldn't connect how I'd like to.

I do want to see the movie, though I don't think I'm ready to cry right now, haha. But it's on my list. It looks like a beautiful film, but I'm so glad to hear that it fills in the emotional part that lacks in the book.

Super job!

aldrin said...

i watched this movie once, but i'm not sure i could watch it again because seeing andrew garfield (#mancrush) like that breaks my heart.

Marinka said...

What a wonderful review of the movie. I saw it myself last weekend for the first time, and it moved me the same way. I felt sad, and angry. It was hard for me to understand why they simply didn't ran away. I also loved how the actors played, it was a nice casting.
thanks for sharing your thoughts on the movie

See Hear Say said...

ohhh i really want to see this movie but also scared that i'd cry and get upset. i think i have to find the right time when i'm in the mood to watch this kind of movie. i haven't read the book yet either, do you think i should read first or watch the movie first? seems like it doesn't matter tho as it looks like each has a slight different angle / approach.

hila said...

andrea: I have to admit, I did like the film more than the book, although technically speaking, the book is 'better'. It just left me cold.

caitlin rose: thanks! I may be seeing holocaust connections everywhere because I'm helping out with a holocaust-related project at the moment. I hope the comparison isn't too far-fetched.

sj: thank you - I'd love to hear what you think of both when you get around to it.

elizabeth/primoeza: ha, I thought that too! especially the dress and cardigan combo.

galit: oh, I hope I haven't included too many spoilers, I should have put a spoiler warning before this post - sorry!

amy: thank you amy!

jo: I've been putting off watching this film too, because I heard it was pretty emotional and films such as this one tend to linger with me. But it was worth the emotional upset, I think you should see it.

mnemonique: I hope it comes to Poland soon! It is a very beautifully shot film.

Petra: my pleasure, I'd read the book first, and then see if you can handle the film. I have seen more upsetting films though, so don't be too put off.

tywo: me too, it was completely heartbreaking.

sally: I felt the same way - I watched it with a friend and he turned to me and said when it was over: 'that was depressing'. Ha!

danielle: thank you - give the film a try, I'm sure you'll love it.

principia: me too, all that fine detail - I wonder who really drew them?

victoria: thank you

dichotomous darling: thank you - like you, I felt increasingly upset and angry as the film progressed.

siubhan: I actually found the acting quite moving, not clinical. I found the book clinical. I think I'm just used to typical British 'reserved' acting, since I've been immersed in analysing costume and period dramas for the past few years. There was an emotional quality to the acting that the book lacked. But I think artistically-speaking, the book was better, if that makes sense.

I find Sophie Scholl so fascinating too, it astounds me how anyone can be so brave for other people, not just for themselves.

ringo, have a banana: I agree that Carey Mulligan is fantastic, I really adore her as an actress. I think I could understand or appreciate the more implausible aspects of the cloned characters' actions - they acted like brainwashed people, and it's actually easier to manipulate children than most people think. Still, I can also understand why you didn't like it or connect with it. For me, the film brought everything into perspective.

andrea despot: yes that tommy raging scene was just brilliant. I wonder why the actor didn't win anything for his performance?

sight and dulci: thank you

tana: me too, it has to remain science fiction - I shudder to think.

anabela: I agree, there was the potential for the film to provide a neat little ending, as is often the case with film adaptations. It's funny, I really didn't see the acting as clinical at all, just subdued I suppose. I am used to this particular 'English' style of acting though, maybe that has something to do with it.

molly: oh your should give it a try, I'm the biggest softy and I managed to sit through it :)

hila said...

s-c king: hello! long time no speak! I've missed you, I hope you're doing well. I have seen 'Sophie Scholl: The Final Days', it was fantastic. I agree about the detachment thing, can't say I'm much of a fan of that mode either. and you're welcome re the book recommendations, hope you like them!

Soph: ha :) well, in my opinion, I'd read the book first, it'll make you appreciate the film far better.

herecomesthesun: my pleasure! glad you enjoyed the review :) I'd be interested to see what kind of comparisons you come up with.

louise: oh yes, do go see it on a big screen first, a dvd won't do it justice.

olga: thank you!

cloudykim: thanks! that's a perfect way to describe what the film does: fill an emotional void. I wanted something else from the book, despite it's brilliance ...

aldrin: aww, that's quite sweet :) he's now my mancrush too. I was really surprised how difficult that scene with him screaming was to watch.

marinka: my initial thought was that they didn't run away because they could be physically tracked anyway, and they were brainwashed too. They were essentially prisoners, it's very difficult to see a way out when you've been conditioned to be a prisoner for all your life, and you don't know any better. Also, it's suggested that even if they did escape, they wouldn't survive in the real world - they couldn't be employed, get housing, and all the basic other stuff.

laura: I would personally read the book first, because for me, it put the film into perspective. But it's up to you - some people like seeing the film first :)

s a m said...

Hila, this movie had me thinking for days.

I loved the cinematography (the still-life shots of the wilting flowers reminds me of the poloroid sx-70).

I loved what you had say about the power of language and how we can come to accept atrocities as natural.

I think this movie was the best argument against Utilitarianism that I can possibly imagine. If I was a philosophy professor I would show it in class. It shows so well that human life can't be quantified.

hila said...

sam: exactly! you took the words right out of my mouth with that last line.

onesilentwinter said...

i watched it the other night, it is so beautiful executed- haunting and drenched with sadness, an unfair life, one that can't be changed. i cried as well specially as you described it when he was screaming in the road.

i could not imagine, the acting was so delicate and strong.

wingeddeer said...

I just watched this movie because of your review- I have to admit I was mostly drawn in by the stills- beautiful images and yes, school clothing...but of course it was much more powerful than that.

I too found myself crying - especially at the end, but was also left with this ache in me after it was over, and pondering about that last line- about how maybe, they weren't so different from regular people, who might also feel there isn't ever enough time.

I had forgotten about your holocaust comparison by the time I watched it, but I thought of all the ways our society brainwashes us with words and beliefs- it truly is a philosophical piece, a lot of food for thought...

I could write longer but I'll stop here - just wanted to thank you for the recommendation!

(and thank you for the nice comment :) I'm honored you liked it)

Diane said...

I have wanted to read the book since it was published but never got around to it. I did watch the movie last week and absolutely agree with your review. I too cried through the movie finding the emotion combined with the characters and cinematography overwhelming. It touched me so that I wanted to share it with my husband but he found it boring (I cried watching it the second time also). Now I MUST make time to read the book.
Thanks for a great review.

hila said...

onesilentwinter: yes, that's it: his acting was both delicate and strong. I guess that's why it was so powerful.

wingeddeer: my pleasure :) and I'm so glad you watched the movie and were equally moved.

diane: yes, I think the general consensus is that this is a crying (or in my case, sobbing) film :) glad you liked my review!

julie said...

oh my - i have to read this book - i stopped reading what you wrote after the first few lines. the stills are beautiful. i have been looking for a good book..

hila said...

julie: it's a very interesting book, let me know what you think of it when you get to read it.