Never Let Me Go never lets you embrace it entirely – beyond its elegant visual design, there’s an icy resistance to the way Alex Garland sets up the screenplay. But as I reflect on the film, that coldness serves to reflect the dark and unforgiving world in which its characters inhabit. Children who attend Hailsham don’t become people, but rather become parts to people. They are the batteries of society, harvested and excavated as tools of medicine. The notion is one that borrows from a sense that the hegemony dictates the role of those who are less fortunate.
Cathy (Carey Mulligan) opens the film by discussing her inability to look into the future, but rather the past. What follows is a humanization process, as the audience follows Cathy, her friend Ruth (Kiera Knightly), and the object of Cathy’s desire Tommy (Andrew Garfield) through Hailsham school and their experience with the outside world. Details are kept to a minimum – we don’t quite know how the children got to the school, why they have those bracelets, or what makes them so different. But the answers to that information trickle down, as we learn of their purpose. In a bitterly sober scene involving a new guardian at the school (Sally Hawkins), she reveals only a glimpse of the truth to her students. They sit in quietly, attempting to comprehend their role in the world.
The film shifts locales in chapter form, as they leave Hailsham for another compound known as The Cottages. This shift brings up my biggest fault with Never Let Me Go, and that’s its lack of organic narrative flow. I sensed a constant attempt for the film to strike a particular narrative note – one can gather what scenes Garland adapted for the screenplay, though there doesn’t seem to be much of a bridge from one scene to another. This problem becomes increasingly obvious as the film moves on, where pacing really does hold the film back from being something truly great.