My friend Siobhan and I have started going to the cinema together, there seems to be one implicit condition though, we can only see unbearably depressing films. It's unbearable or nothing. Which is fine, I guess, since we both enjoy that kind of pain, and we seem to bear it all right. Recently she suggested Blue Valentine, then I suggested Never Let Me Go. You can see them both and let me know which one you found to be the most depressing.
First of all, let me admit that prior to watching them I had no idea what they were about. Of Never Let Me Go I knew the cast, and the only reason I suggested it is that I quite fancied seeing pan-faced Keira and pig-faced Carey in action together again. It might be a bad habit but in the past few years I have started deliberately avoiding reading plots and reviews of films I might want to see at the cinema. I am far too put off by genres, so not having a clue what it is that I am about to see makes it easier to actually go and be surprised - sometimes. This doesn’t, of course, explain why I knew nothing of NLMG, since it's based on a novel which I own but i haven't read yet. I won't apologise for that though, I am busy, get over it. It's on the pile of books to read, I keep adding to the pile and keep reading the last book added. I was going to read it at the right moment and the moment hadn't come yet, so, from the poster alone (I don't read back cover plot outlines either) I assumed I would be a coming of age smooch fest, a boarding school version of Pride and Prejudice, only modern and therefore – I hoped – more explicit.
Imagine my surprise seeing Keira play the part of the selfish bitch in what turned out to be a really disturbing story scripted to spin sci-fi on its head and free it from any sci-fi elements bar one, microchip bracelets, a cinematic addition apparently. As it was a Q&A, I had the chance to see that the book lovers had no objection to the filmic rendition, and Ishiguro himself – I hear – is fairly happy with it, as he was consulted every step of the way to make sure everything felt right and nobody got pissed off. The casting worked really well, the children, in particular, were well trained to mimic their adult correspondents; and the Japanese aesthetics were well respected. What annoyed me, I have to say, is the exasperated cinematic cliché of colour representation of emotions. Blue, gray, green and the combination of the three equal sadness and hopelessness. Great, let’s turn this film into the winter installment of a knitting catalogue. In fact, let’s also design our intertitles to match that and turn the film locations ans time placers into knitting chapter openers (Hailsham: child wear, The Cottages: farming housewives, Completion: er... shawls?)
Anyway, enough technicalities, what is the film about? Should you see it? You should read the book first - you should always read the book first unless we're talking of The Girl With the Pearl Earring - but if now is not the right time yet, I'll be happy to spoil it for you. NLMG is the story of three children who meet in a special boarding school for clones who are created and raised for the sole purpose of becoming organ donors in their 20s. As the three protagonists grow up friendship, love and resentment get tangled, until Completion time approaches (death, that is) and they have to let go. The sadness is constant and justified: just like normal humans the clones know their existence will come to an end and hope to postpone it, the difference is that unlike that of most humans, their life will terminate in their prime and they don't get a chance to forget about it. Their desperation is not the raw, uncontrollable one of the replicants in Blade Runner, which is probably why this film didn't do well in the US market. The fact that the characters don't run much, reveals Romaneck, has displeased some critics over there. There is only one run in the film and not much screaming and confrontation; this is down to Romaneck's desire to remain close to the Japanese concept of Yūgen, according to which emotions should be expressed subtly, elegantly, like a small ripple on the surface of a river troubled by very strong, deep undercurrents. Not in the screamy, snotty way we go about things.
Ignore the remark on the overindulgent photography, I recommend this film because it surprised me, and also because not watching films only because Keira Knightley is in them is no longer a good excuse.
Good for you, Keira.
-- Faye Fornasier