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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Understated Dystopia: A Review for "Never Let Me Go"

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 A dystopia is, in literature, an often futuristic society that has degraded into a repressive and controlled state, often under the guise of being utopian. Dystopian literature has underlying cautionary tones, warning society that if we continue to live how we do, this will be the consequence. [From Wikipedia]

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Are souls given or acquired?  Is it a divine gift from the gods or is it acquired through a person’s accumulated benevolent actions throughout his or her life? Who can rightfully say that we have souls at all and what if we do not have one, what drives us then? Inevitably, the problem lies with the definition of the word “soul?”  Is it that invisible holy spirit-like entity that leaves the body and ascends to heaven or descends to face the furnace of hell?  Is soul that unexplained immeasurable drive that makes us want to love, give love and protect love, may it be romantic love or love for life?  Is soul merely energy force or is it all of the above?

Whatever the case may be, the soul could be that ethereal concept of reminding ourselves that we are not mere flesh, bones and blood. There is something within us that goes beyond the biologically functional. In Kazuo Ishiguro’s dystopian novel “Never Let Me Go,” he explores the idea of soul and human cruelty under the guise of modern technological efficiently.  We might be evolving into scientifically intelligent and inventive creatures, but there is one thing science may never invent, and that is the value and purpose of meaning.

Mark Romanek’s film adaptation of Ishiguro’s novel is a humble effort to encapsulate in two hours Ishiguro’s substantive literary narrative.  Not having read the novel, I was still able to piece together important key points of the story to solve the film’s puzzle.  It also helps that Ishiguro’s characters were portrayed by talented young actors like Carey Mulligan, Kiera Knightley and Andrew Garfield along with the impressive yet sadly underused supporting cast lead by Charlotte Rampling and Isobel Meikle-Small, who played the young Carey. 
The dialogues are appropriately sparse and the narration is surprisingly unobtrusive and brilliantly delivered by Mulligan.  The actors are then left to rely on facial expressions and body language to reveal the internal struggles of their characters.  Rachel Portman’s music also enriches the film instead of soaking it into morbidity and romantic sappiness.  Romanek avoided trips to filmic grandiosity and let the story unfold through the actors. 
The film has its flaws but it is still likeable.  It is an understated passage to dysopia and it has everything for the romantically morbid, the brilliant loners, the philosophical, the culturally savvy young adults and just lovers of romance.  Even if you just focus on the love triangle, the film is still engaging.
Andrew Garfield showed promise but this was not his acting vehicle. He will have his day. The film belonged to Kiera Knightley and Carey Mulligan, two actresses to take seriously.  Both gave souls to their characters in their own different ways, perhaps dictated by their different roles.  Knightley, playing the extroverted yet insecure Ruth, relied on the physicality of acting, and her death scene was cold and corporal as it could get given her brief moments. On the other hand, Mulligan, playing the quiet introspective Kathy, seemed to be working from within and letting her emotions leak out slowly from the surface.  
I hope this film will encourage people to read Ishiguro’s book.  The choice of the title will also be explained in the book.  I just started reading it and it has not disappointed me thus far.  Film is a marvelous medium but there is still something profound about the written word that can take the reader into the internal universe of the human soul.  Watch the movie then read the book. It’s a win-win scenario.

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