Thursday, July 04, 2013

Never Let Me Go

I read the book Never Let me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro, many years ago when it was first released. I wasn't really familiar with Ishiguro, this was the first book of his that I had read. The thing that struck me about it was that beyond the plot or the characters, he was very adept at establishing a mood. There was a very distinct feeling that you got throughout the work, a longing and a sort of bittersweet wistfulness.

It wasn't long after I read it that it was announced the book was being adapted to the screen, and I had no doubt they could do justice by the story, the action in the film is relatively simple. There's actually not to many events, and so the challenges that filmmakers normally have fitting everything into the allotted time wouldn't be the real problem.

The real problem would be capturing the mood. Especially considering that the novel is told in first person from the point of view of Kathy (Carey Mulligan's character). First person stories are notoriously difficult because you aren't given the same insight into the characters. And it's really Kathy's state of mind that provides the emotions for the reader as they experience her life through her eyes and her memories.

The film uses one well worn technique for this - the voiceover. But Mulligan's performance and her voice are so strong that it works. The cinematography is beautiful, and everything truly does come together to really capture the same longing that you feel when reading the novel. To be honest, the plot of the film is not particularly memorable, and in some ways it's not even really that original. In a lesser filmmaker's hands, it wouldn't have worked. Just like a lesser novelist couldn't have pulled it off either. It's a rather typical love triangle with a science-fiction twist (in the novel it's less obvious until later, the movie spells it out very early on).

But the filmmakers made one very clever choice early on - the film never for a moment looks like science fiction. There is no sense of it being the future, in fact it has the look and feel of a period piece set maybe around the 1940's. That adds an air of nostalgia, a heaviness of history to it, that helps bring the audience right back to the subtlety of Kathy's mind.

It probably isn't a film that will appeal to everyone. The pace is quite slow, there is no real action and the conflict is very understated. It's a very internal film, and that isn't always going to be appealing. But it's a very skilled adaptation of the book, and the only fault I can find with it is that it reveals it's mysteries too early. The novel is one of the few instances where I believe people are better off knowing very little going into it, and that spoilers truly spoil part of the enjoyment. The movie doesn't have that problem, because the reveal is quick and painless and has little impact.