Poignant independent movies have a hard time appealing to audiences uninterested in sitting in a dark theater eating popcorn salted by their own tears. But every once and a while an independent film is made that is worth the despair and the $8.50.
Good dramas require a masterful balance; it is psychologically difficult to handle one hour and 43 minutes of death, disease and heartbreak. But Mark Romanek’s new film “Never Let Me Go” does not create an emotional equilibrium with bits of irony or comedy. Instead, Romanek eases aches with a mysterious plot that gradually opens a dam, allowing a tender flood of emotions at just the right moment.
This doesn’t sound pleasant, and it isn’t; not exactly. But the artfully eerie and cinematically striking scenes will engage you.
“Never Let Me Go” follows the short lives of three children. It is narrated by Kathy H. (Carey Mulligan). The quiet, guarded girl intrigues with inquisitive and thoughtful looks. Mulligan embraces the introverted role with elegant, heart-wrenching talent that might put her under the Oscars’ spotlight.
The film enters during her childhood at the English boarding school Hailsham. The teachers tell the students they are there for a special purpose. Their diets and exercise are closely monitored. Something is not right. The children are prisoners of the school, and of their bodies.
Gradually the mystery is unveiled by a new teacher, Miss Lucy (Sally Hawkins). The caring teacher is heartbroken with certain knowledge she’s been privileged to. She finally shares this information with the naively unaware students.
The students are strangely calm with this new information, because it doesn’t seem new at all. They have always known they were different. Their lives go on, even with their solemn fate lurking in the future.
The children take solace in their friendships and relationships. Kathy befriends Tommy (Andrew Garfield), the strange boy who cannot control his temper. Tommy is also outcast, but not by choice. With the help of his new friend, Tommy manages to tame his temper and grows into a gawky, sweet and soft-spoken adolescent.
In a depressing garage sale where students eagerly pick out used, broken toys, Tommy buys Kathy a tape featuring the fictional singer Judy Bridgewater. She sings a smooth chorus saying, “baby, never let me go.” In a scene laden with hormonal angst, Kathy sways clutching a pillow to the song.
Somewhere in between all of that—to no one’s surprise-—a love triangle is formed. Kathy’s best friend Ruth (Keira Knightley), quickly snatches Tommy up the moment Kathy begins to fall for him.
Keira Knightley perfects the man-stealing, pursed-lips snob her stiff jawline was built to play.
Kathy and Ruth remain friends throughout their adolescence. But their jealousy of each other’s relationship with Tommy paves the way for a tensely mangled friendship, with Tommy awkwardly caught in the middle.
Once the children graduate Hailsham, they are allowed into the real world for a few years before they are supposed to meet their ultimate fate. The three are sent to a small area known as the “Cottages.” There, the teens struggle with love and their identities as humans created for a very inhumane purpose.
The film is based on the award-winning novel of the same name by British author Kazuo Ishiguro. It was limitedly released in mid-September by Fox Searchlight Pictures in less than 50 theaters in the United States, including Fleur Cinema in Des Moines.
The movie is no longer playing in Des Moines, but it is a must add to any DVD collection.
Though the tear-jerking tone may not resonate with all audiences, the refined cinematography brilliantly adds to the eeriness of the story. The ending is thought-provoking as much as it is tearful.
Not to mention that the haunting tale is flawlessly acted, making the hard-to-swallow film well worth the ache. The casting was spot-on.
You may not have recognized Carey Mulligan before this movie, aside from her recent role alongside Shia LaBeouf in “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.” Her rising star power has exceeded expectations with her Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress for her role in “An Education.”
Andrew Garfield was fairly unknown in the U.S. until his role in the new movie “The Social Network,” and his recently received role as the new Peter Parker in the highly anticipated Spider Man movie to be released in 2012.
The grave tone might deter some at the box office, but the rivetingly morbid plot that unravels with gradual sophistication will undoubtedly engage. Any Oscar-buff agenda is incomplete without it.
Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures