Published five years ago, Kazuo Ishiguro's massively praised Never Let Me Go is set in an alternate universe where life has been extended and catastrophic illness eliminated, thanks to an evolutionary advance, namely the harvesting of vital organs from specially bred human clones. Narrated by a tragic innocent, brooding on the nature of childhood and a child's burgeoning awareness of death, the book attacked tear ducts; the movie, directed by Mark Romanek, does the same. Like the novel, the movie derives considerable poignancy by pondering a child's naïve interpretation of the monstrous status quoin this case, an exclusive boarding school evocatively known as Hailsham. As rich in rustic charm, English tradition, and magical thinking as Hogwarts, Hailsham is equally unnatural. The children there are aware of what they are but, perhaps out of psychic self-preservation, have yet to understand their fatebut then what child does? Although apparent from the onset, the circumstances are clearly explained a half-hour in, when the three principles grow up into Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, and Andrew Garfield, having departed Hailsham for the college-age halfway house where they will wait until called upon to "complete" their destinies. Given its strong cast and genteel setting, Never Let Me Go exemplifies the cinema of "quality." But, conventional as it is, the movie is not without a transgressive power. The surface blandness does not efface, and might even amplify, its disturbing qualities.
Jan. 2-3, 2011