Monday, December 6, 2010


Okay, movie version of one of my favourite books of all time : The dice was loaded from the start.

The trailers for Mark Romanek's adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's Booker shortlisted novel point out that its based on "the greatest novel of the decade", atleast according to TIME. Which gives it astonishingly strong source material, of course, but also the curse of ridiculously high expectations. Add to that, a cast that includes Carey Mulligan, fresh off an incredibly winning performance in "An Education", and Keira Knightley, who, say what you might, was born to play the casually cruel and selfish character of Ruth.

So does the movie acquit itself of its burden ?

Well, no. Not completely, not in the smashingly triumphant way I wanted it to. Blame it on the fact that I was too intent on comparing it with its source novel, or that I'd walked in with the preconcieved notion that the book was un-adaptable - the movie wasn't everything I wanted it to be. However, simply based on the incredible hook of the story, on the fact that the performances do deliver, and on the fact that the director gets the wistful tone of the novel down to every last melancholic frame, I'd still say this is a good, well-made film : just with the unfortunate tag that it could've been much more.

So what do we have here ? Well - a hell of a premise. Hailsham, where the action starts, is a boarding school - but not quite like your everyday Malory Towers. The children here are "special", they're often reminded, they must keep healthy, they must keep fit, they have a higher purpose. This devastating "purpose" is revealed early enough into the film : they were brought into the world to serve as organ donors. A few years after they hit adulthood, they will start their duty of donations. Around the 3rd or 4th donation, most of them will, as Ishiguro delicately put it, "complete".

But Never Let Me Go isn't really about the ethics of organ donation at all. In the masterstroke of the novel, and in a thankfully faithful screen transition, the focus is on the relationship between its 3 central characters : all of whom will one day serve as donors. Carey Mulligan is the gentle, reflective Kathy, Keira Knightley is ruthless little Ruth, and Andrew Garfield (the best friend from the social network !)is the rage prone Tommy. Tommy is the object of both Kathy and Ruth's affection : he truly loves one of them, and is in a relationship with the other. The cruelly shortened love story is the most successful transition from the novel to the screen : the pivotal scenes where one character repents their decade-old decision/ a long delayed kiss/ the final look 2 lovers share as one lies on an operating table destined for death : the moments are all quietly devastating, and wonderfully played out.

Carey Mulligan is really the one to watch here - it starts off as an innocuous performance, as she lets Keira Knightley's character play off her, but watch as she slowly builds in quiet desperation, never quite letting herself go. In the movie's best scene, she sits next to Tommy as they are informed gradually that there is no escape, not even a delay, from the fate that awaits them. Kathy realizes this much before Tommy - and observe how beautifully Mulligan lets her eyes convey the infinite sadness of this revelation, and at the same time the trepidation of what this discovery is going to do to Tommy. If there was one word you'd use to describe Kathy's character from the book, it'd be graceful - and here, Mulligan positively radiates that grace.

So where does the movie falter ?

Simply put - it's not enough. It's an economical little 1 hour and 35 minutes, a neat running time, which seems to rob away some of the power from every frame. You get the sense that we're being presented with a quick succession of events that don't flow into each other seamlessly, that moments aren't allowed to breath, and conversations are cut short. Ishiguro's novel has several fascinating instances of internal monologue where Kathy dissects a conversation she's having whilst its on, a device which manages to get you right into the heads of all these different characters. While I realize it would've been extremely difficult to work that idea into the movie, the fact that its not there is a big blow.

But, watch it. For a movie that's so pivotally bound to the notion of death, Kathy's final words are wonderfully life-affirming.

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