Tuesday, May 23, 2017

“You poor creatures…I wish I could help you…but you're by yourselves now…”


Back in July of last year, when The House of Yesteryear was enmeshed in that (mercifully) brief thrall of madness I jokingly called The DISH Austerity Program, there was really one outlet on our system for uncut, commercial-free movies…and that was HDNet Movies, a channel that spun-off from HDNet (now signing all correspondence as AXS TV) in 2003 and launched by gazillionaire Mark Cuban…who is, in some quarters, said to be considering a Presidential run in 2020 after also threatening to do so in 2016.  Not because he can solve America’s problems…but more along the lines of “If Donald Trump can become president, why can’t I?”  (This is the point on the blog where I curl up in a ball and weep uncontrollably…just bear with me and it will pass quickly.)

Despite my barely-disguised revulsion for Cuban and his ilk, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I have DVR’d a movie or two from HDNet Movies when the occasion arises.  Most of the fare on the schedule consists of proven crowd pleasers like The Karate Kid (1984) and The Bridges of Madison County (1995), but there’s a nugget or two to be mined if you’re willing to work for it (and have a proper grubstake—yes, I watch a lot of westerns, as you might have guessed).  HDNet Movies’ a little like the Encore Movie Channel—past hits mixed in with recent flicks—and because I have not stepped inside a googolplex since 2009, it gives me an opportunity to catch up on some good “moon pictures” I’ve missed.

In Never Let Me Go (2010), a title card reads: “The breakthrough in medical science came in 1952.  Doctors could now cure the previously incurable.   By 1967, life expectancy passed 100 years.”  What follows is a reminiscence by a woman (Carey Mulligan) identified as “Kathy H,” as she looks back fondly on her experiences at a boarding school known as Hailsham.  The young Kathy (Isobel Meikle-Small) has two close friends at the school: Ruth C (Ella Purnell) and Tommy D (Charlie Rowe)—Kathy has quite the romantic attachment to young Tom, but Ruth effortlessly steals the boy’s affections because she’s a bit of a b-word.  Hailsham isn’t all that different from the usual repressive boarding school, though the students there are constantly encouraged to get in touch with their artistic side by submitting their work to The Gallery, which is administered by a mysterious woman known only as Madame (Nathalie Richard).

Isobel Meikle-Small as the young Kathy
Okay, I tell a lie—there is one slight difference, and it’s a most sinister one.  One day, the students are informed by beloved teacher Miss Lucy (Sally Hawkins) of their purpose for being there…because “The problem is you've been told and not told…”

Do you know what happens to children when they grow up?  No, you don't, because nobody knows.  They might grow up to become actors, move to America.  Or they might work in supermarkets.  Or teach in schools.  They might become sportsmen or bus conductors or racing car drivers.  They might do almost anything.  But with you we do know.  None of you will go to America.  None of you will work in supermarkets.  None of you will do anything except live the life that has already been set out for you.

And what does Miss Lucy mean by this cryptic statement?  Well, that’s “the big reveal” of Never Let Me Go, and I’d be robbing you of a unique movie-watching experience if I said anymore.  There’s no getting around it: this film—a combination of romance and dystopian science-fiction—will make you sit up and ask: “What the…front yard?”  If you’re familiar with the source material, the critically acclaimed novel by Kazuo Ishiguro published in 2005, you already know how this one ends…and you can certainly find more information on the film in other corners of the Internets.  But Leonard Maltin kept his big bazoo shut in his capsuled write-up on the film in his 2015 Movie Guide, and the least I can do is follow his example.

The acting in Never Let Me Go is first-rate, with a cast of thesps that I must grudgingly admit I have but only a passing familiarity.  I got the opportunity to see Carey Mulligan in Suffragette (2015) during one of our HBO-Cinemax “freeviews,” and enjoyed her performance tremendously in that one.  The actress leapt at the chance to play the lead in Never Let Me Go, purportedly because Ishiguro’s novel is her favorite book.  She’s most convincing in both her teen and adult years as a strong individual who remains resolute despite having been informed early in life of her fate, and her measured, understated turn has lingered in my memory despite it having been about a month since I sat down and watched this from the DVR.

Mark Romanek
Other than veteran actress Charlotte Rampling (in a nice showcase as the ominous headmistress), I don’t think I’ve seen any of the other stars from Never Let Me Go in anything else although I did recently DVR Lions for Lambs (2007) from HDNet so I’ll soon be chalking up another entry from Andrew Garfield’s oeuvre soon.  I know Keira Knightley only from the impressive amount of photographic publicity she seems to generate; the director of Never, Mark Romanek, admitted in an interview that it was nearly impossible to make Knightley look “plain”—“…even at her worst, Keira still looks astonishing.”  To Knightley’s credit, she admitted that she was unable to relate to the movie’s “love triangle,” but she managed to do a pretty good job convincing me.

Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield
I’ve joked on the blog many times about certain movies not being “date films”—Never Let Me Go qualifies in spades, mostly because of its grim subject matter.  (Again, I’m doing my best to hide some of its content but I can see why its plot plays better in the original novel, set in Japan, than it does in the film’s UK.)  It’s a most challenging movie, with haunting moments of both sadness and uninhibited joy (the reunion that Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy have after not seeing one another in some time is both refreshing in its optimism and devastating in its doom), and Rachel Portman’s exemplary music score also scores points in the movie’s favor.  If you like movies that have wandered off the main path, this one will be a buried treasure.

3 comments:

Rich said...

Funny you should write about this; I re-read the book recently. You're right; it is grim, not to mention extremely talky. I think I liked the movie a little better.

A correction: the book definitely takes place in England too.

Ivan G Shreve Jr said...

Rich kept me honest:

A correction: the book definitely takes place in England too.

Am I red-faced. I sit corrected.

But at the risk of revealing any more content, this is the tiny flaw with the book and movie. I had a little trouble accepting that what goes on both versions would not be challenged by any sort of public opposition -- protests, sit-ins, etc. The movie addresses this with the title card I referenced in the review, but it sort of nibbled on me as I watched the film. That's why I thought the book was set in Japan, where it seems a little more plausible.

Rich said...

Yep. I thought the exact same thing. When I wrote about the movie, I said I wanted to know whether or not the three principals cared about their fate. Their experiences suggest otherwise. If this were a Hollywood movie, they'd stage some kind of HUNGER GAMES-style rebellion, and I suppose the fact they don't makes this distinctive. It's kinda interesting, but I wouldn't call its source the "book of the decade," like the trailer proclaimed.