Saturday, August 13, 2011

Never Let Me Go on DVD

Lately, I've picked some really depressing movies to watch. Never Let Me Go is definitely that, but it also has a certain tragic beauty to it that appeals to me. The book club I take sporadic participation in read the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro and then saw the movie together. (Kazuo Ishiguro was an executive producer on the movie as well.) I did not read the book and, therefore, did not go see the movie with them. But I was interested in it, so after many months, I decided to watch the movie on my own. I have mixed feelings about it.

First of all, I might have enjoyed it better had I read the book, but maybe not. A movie should stand on its own, and I had too many questions watching this one. Let me get into the plot, and then I'll explain (but be prepared for spoilers, which I will try to keep vague and at a minimum).

The story starts in the 1970's, which I found odd, considering that it has a somewhat futuristic, science fiction aspect to it. Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy grow up on a glorified organ donation farm. Together with other children, they attend classes and live as though at any other "normal" boarding school. The exception is that they are being carefully monitored health-wise so that when they are of the appropriate age, they can begin a process that will let them donate up to four vital organs, one at a time, after which they will die. The only way to defer their donations is by becoming Carers. For a few years, Carers care for Donors, and then it's their turn to donate before they get too old. That's the background story, but the main story focuses on these three children as they grow into teenagers (played by Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, and Keira Knightley), fall in love, fall apart, and try to live normal lives within the confines of their very abnormal existence.

I just had a hard time buying the story or the characters' reactions, mainly because of one question. How do you grow up knowing you are going to die young and not realize at some point that people can't do that to you? The characters attempt to defer their donations in whatever way is presented for them, but it's like they can't think for themselves. And maybe they can't. Maybe they are so brainwashed that this is the realistic outcome. But they never once try to escape. The whole movie shows them scanning their bracelets every time they leave or enter a building all their lives, and they don't question it once. I felt like they should, but maybe that's where I'm missing what the book has to offer. I wanted to know why these farms existed, why the author felt he had to put something futuristic in the past, why the kids accepted it without question. It didn't sit right with me at all, and I don't believe it was supposed to. But I don't like the unsettled feeling, and I wanted a little more explanation about the logistics.

I'm very curious now to hear what my fellow book club members who actually read the book have to say. I want to know if the book did the story more justice.

Aside from the intriguing but confusing premise, the storyline is somewhat unsatisfactory as well. There's a love triangle, and it's annoying because on top of their crappy lives, these characters can't even enjoy a simple love. I like when they get it right, but that enjoyment is short-lived as the story ends predictably and realistically (for the type of plot). Maybe that's why I can't enjoy this story; it's too realistic. I like happy, or at least hopeful, endings. Stories should be a form of healthy escapism from the realities of life. I can appreciate a more realistic ending, but I get true enjoyment only from something that's bigger and grander than the real world.

And yet another strike against the movie: it's rated R for some nudity and sexuality. It's done much more tastefully than some movies I've seen. The only real frontal nudity is the tops of women in a magazine. There are a couple sex scenes, which are fairly careful not to show parts (you might catch a glimpse if you look closely, but I don't, so I can't tell you for sure). The sex scenes are all about lust, and the one time there is a closer connection between the people, they don't show the sex scene. That's fine by me, but why do that? Did the movie makers think that it was more sacred, or something, because it was true love? News flash: sex is sacred. Period. They understand only the half of it.

My final take. I thought the movie was mostly well-done, emotional, and heart-wrenching. From a cinematography viewpoint, it's beautiful. It has a historical feel, while being weirdly futuristic, an odd and interesting mix, to be sure. But I can't say I enjoyed the movie. It's hard to enjoy something so hopeless.

I'm really quite torn about what star rating to give this movie. I didn't hate it, but I'm not sure whom to recommend it to either. Probably best to start with the book, unlike me, and go from there. Let's just draw the line down the middle at two and a half stars.

ADDENDUM: Above, I stated that my book club read the book and then saw the movie together. I was wrong. They did read the book, but as of this post, they had not seen the movie together yet. I apologize for the error.

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