To me, she can do no wrong, so going into "Never Let Me Go," I'd have to say I was severely biased. It's hard to be objective when doing a movie review, but in this case, I already knew I would be overly inclined to enjoy it just because of the sheer bliss of Keira being in a movie that came to America for a change!
With that being said, as I watched the film, I tried my best to look at it as subjectively as possible. Hah! Spoilers below... like, a lot.
This movie takes place in a dis-topian society that seems a lot like our regular world, but is NOT. Carey Mulligan's character, Kathy, begins by narrating her childhood and young adult life with her two closest friends, Ruth (Knightley) and Tommy (Andrew Garfield). Ruth and Tommy end up being together, even though it was obvious that Tommy and Kathy were in love even when they were very young. The rest of the story unfolds to reveal that this boarding "type" school these children have been attending is actually just a humane place to raise clones who have been created specifically just for organ donations. Eventually these kids will grow to adulthood and then be forced to donate as many organs as they can before they die. Through learning, dealing with, and understanding their fate, these three characters begin to confront the undertones of betrayal, love, and jealousy between them.
This story asks a pretty obvious question about humanity. If it came down to this situation, where we'd be able to avoid cancer and other diseases by using organs collected from cloned humans, would we have any (humanity, that is)? When confronted with the question, the answer in this movie is 'no.' At the end, the Headmistress of Hailsham says that she tried to show that the students at her school had souls, but no one cared if they did. No one was even asking about it. She says "If you ask them if they'd want to go back to the darkness, to go back to a world that has cancer ... , the answer will always be 'no.'" These children were created, allowed to grow up, and kept healthy for the soul purpose of having their organs harvested. And even though it was as though they were cattle or crops, the rest of humanity didn't care. Who cares what happens to those clones even if they have souls, love, friendship, and everything humans are supposed to have? They are nameless and faceless, kept somewhere that is inconsequential, out of site and out of mind. Don't think about the injustices that are going on, as long as it serves you well, or doesn't bother you. This is the attitude I think a lot of people take on in real life today about other things. Maybe not as blatantly, but almost.
I think this movie was done really well. It was beautifully acted by Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, and Andrew Garfield. Each of them portrayed their characters very well. I especially enjoyed the twitchy awkward factor that Garfield added to Tommy. It really worked with his character. Some of the sweetest moments of the film were when we got to see the Hailsham students having to interact with people in the outside world. There was a scene where they had to order breakfast and none of them knew how. They were so nervous and scared that they all ordered what their friends did. It was so cute! They are, in their own ways, so lovable.
There were times that I wasn't sure how I felt about Keira's character, Ruth. Even when the characters were all being played by the children, Ruth seemed jealous and awful. But thankfully, for me, half way through the film she redeems herself. The scene where I was most impressed by Keira was when Kathy was working as a "carer" for those donating. She had traveled to a hospital to oversee one of her patient's operations, and it just so happened that Ruth was there, too. She had had her 2nd donation and was in bad shape. She had to use a walker to get around. As Ruth and Kathy walk down the hospital hall together, you can see a complete shift in Ruth's demeanor. After years of having not seen this girl (Kathy), her supposed best yet estranged friend, and nearly on the brink of death, Ruth seems more likable than ever. To me, this was some of the most genuine acting Keira did in the entire movie. I don't know why that scene hit me the way it did, but I really loved it.
In the end, of course, Ruth "completes" or dies after her 3rd donation. It's just AWFUL how it happens. She's on an operating table, unconscious, tube down her throat, eyes OPEN. As they remove her donation (which is her liver), she flat lines and dies. There are no frantic attempts to revive her, there is no urgency, no crash cart. They just seal up the liver in a bag, disconnect her oxygen, turn off the lights, and leave her body, open and still bloody, there on the table, as though she was just another tool in the operating room. She is not human. The image is haunting and unsettling. And that's the last we see of Ruth.
After that, there is one more powerful scene where Tommy releases a horrendous outburst after finding out that he and Kathy cannot defer their donations. The rumor was that couples in love could apply to have a few extra years together, and it was Ruth's last wish that Kathy and Tommy apply for this to make up for her keeping them apart all through school. They find out this possibility never existed and as his true fate sinks in, he lets his emotions out. Kathy tries to comfort him and hold him and it makes for a very beautiful, yet very tragic scene. It was very powerful in letting the audience see just how human these characters, who were viewed as things, really are. The music swells, and by the end they are both holding each other in the middle of the street, in the light of their headlights.
With all of the elements of this film, the thing that stood out most to me was the soundtrack. And it's not just because the title "Never Let Me Go" comes from a song that Kathy plays over and over, but Rachel Portman's music fits this movie so perfectly. Beyond that, it also adds to scenes where perhaps something was missing. I certainly will be going and buying the actual hard copy CD of this one and adding it to my list of favorite instrumental albums.
Overall, I really liked this movie. It was heartbreaking and unsettling, but very good. And I only teared up a bit on the way home. (Seeing Keira die always upsets me a LOT!) I hope it will eventually hit wide release and more people will get to see it. And I am satisfied that this is what is kicking off the new season of movies, especially since Keira is back! Hooray!