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Never, Ever, Let Me Go

January 10, 2011

This article is published in the FFC Feature on

Whenever I saw a plastic bag, a mix feeling of benevolence and mild annoyance used to bubble up within me.

When not neatly stacked by the cashier in a store or filled with stuff, they were usually flapping in the wind making unnecessary noises or worse, trailing in the gutter or sidewalk, being useless. Their life as intended was over, but they seemed oblivious to that fact.

These feeling changed after I first read the novel “Never Let Me Go” by Kazuo Ishiguro, which in its almost-casual prose and easy pace, threaded me through the legendary grounds of Hailsham and the damp English countryside with Ruth, Tommy, and Kathy. Along the way I sat beside the girls while they bonded, and stood beside the boys while they yelled. Throughout their lives, I got to know these three people, and they became real to me. By the time the book completed, so had they, but I was not.

I did not want it to end.

Thus I put it away, and avoided seeing the film adaptation of the same name, Never Let Me Go (2010), directed by Mark Romanek, for some time. Eventually curiosity took over, and I finally watched the movie. From start to finish, it was like no time had passed at all, and I was once again absorbed into the world of Hailsham, those children, and their brief, hurried lives.

Hailsham is a special place, built for special people. As a boarding school, it provides its students with everything they need to obtain happiness: food, shelter, education, safety, order. Especially order. Children don’t require much, and they mold easily into their environments. They take in everything straight through clear, non-cynical eyes, and believe that things are exactly as told, that they are exactly as they seem.

Of course, that is a lie. Because adults are running Hailsham, and their worlds can no longer afford to be as idyllic as those of the children they have come to bear.

And life goes on as planned. For Ruth (Keira Knightley), Tommy (Andrew Garfield) and Kathy (Carey Mulligan), a smooth trajectory has been laid out from birth to completion. They are special. They are encouraged to draw, to produce art, to be healthy. None of them question these requests. However, questions do sprout up…about each other, those natural curiosities of the opposite sex and the innate awareness of their differences. Kathy is fascinated by Tommy, who despite his temperamental flaws, has heart and thoughts. She watches him, digests him, one day approaches him with an unexpected gentle touch, and their lives intersected. Tommy, surprised by such kindness, returns the favor the only way a boy knows how: he buys her a gift, which Kathy would treasure at unexpected moments later on.

Throughout all this Ruth watches. Carefully. Thoughtfully. She is a precocious child, and she has her own plans too. One day, she decides that Tommy is the boy she wants the most, and she goes on to have him. Before they know it, the fact is set, and life keeps on going.

Some things in life are within our control, others are beyond. This much we know…but, do we really know? Ishiguro hints at these mysteries through subtle, patient details: a pavilion on the courtyard, a flushed teacher, an universal rumor, a seaside town, a brightly lit shop, an abandoned ship. Each fact, alone, is just a fact. Together, they interwoven into a fog of chilled alarm that seeps into every pore of the book, and thankfully, in Romanek’s capable hands, the film as well…

…Continue reading this article on Roger Ebert’s Far-Flung Correspondents Feature

Along with all my FFC articles.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 10, 2011 11:48 PM

    Another lovely and insightful cinematic reflection, Grace.

    When I first saw the preview for this film, I think what struck me about it most was the skies. I thought, “Yes, that’s it. That’s exactly what the skies these characters lived under looked like.”

    I experience a simultaneous push-pull with this film. On one hand, I want to see Romanek’s immaculately designed and beautiful visualization of the novel, for the ways in which it may be similar to my own and the ways it may differ. On the other, Ishiguro’s words painted the picture so vividly in my mind already that part of me wants to hang on to that, and I found the story so quietly devastating that I’m almost afraid to experience it again.

    For now, at least, these characters and the pinprick heartbreak of their lives lives on in me almost too intensely, constantly reminding me of how fleeting and fragile this life is, for me to bring myself to watch the film. But I imagine someday I will want to return to Hailsham, difficult as it may be.

    • Grace permalink*
      January 11, 2011 2:55 PM

      Man, I felt that same push-pull… I actually gave up two opportunities to see the film at TIFF, because I just didn’t want to deal with the emotional conflict then.

      Having finally delved in, I have to say that the film, if anything, allows a new appreciation for the book and Ishiguro’s prose. In the end, it’s worth it.

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