Never Let Me Go is a film of sunrises and sunsets, and director Mark Romanek aptly connects these transitional moments of nature with the slow dissolve of suffering humans awaiting their programmed fates. Within this restrained and chilly alternative universe, the juxtaposition of dissecting cold and warm environments allows Romanek to focus on muted reflections and silent emotional traumas of characters existing in an emotional foregone conclusion, but much of the narrative action is far too inert and distant to be completely moving or convincing.
If it weren’t for Carey Mulligan’s completely enthralling presence as Kathy, a quiet young woman who yearns for the love of childhood crush Tommy (Andrew Garfield), the film would hardly exist outside of its majestic cinematography. Mulligan’s Kathy consistently brings a flare for survival and defiance despite the dire situation she, Tommy, and Ruth (Kiera Knightely) live with. Mulligan’s body often stands at the fringes of the frame, watching time and space get filled by people, objects, and actions. She’s not quite haunted, but her eyes often linger on images for a beat longer than usual, and Mulligan brilliantly explores the interior struggle of a character awash in faux exterior pleasantries.
Never Let Me Go gracefully toes the line between social critique and science fiction, without ever dipping a foot into either one. And maybe that is its core problem. The film becomes hindered by melodramatic tropes that evoke a simplistic understanding of cause and effect, where all three of the key characters function as different versions of the same angst-riddled concerns. In a world that won’t let you grow up, or experience prolonged love, or even the fresh wind of freedom, Never Let Me Go manages to subdue these great tragedies into a somber mood piece about longing. There’s just not enough there for it to be a truly game-changing film. Both frustrating and captivating, Never Let Me Go never stops being a contradiction of genre and message, but that’s is just one of the many interesting paradoxes at the heart of this strangely alluring film.