"Never Let Me Go" profoundly sad and graceful

Never Let Me Go (2010) 
103 min., rated R.
Grade: B +

Profoundly sad and thoughtful in only the way an oxymoron film can be, "Never Let Me Go" is a haunting, gracefully made piece of romantic science fiction that Merchant-Ivory might as well have made. Since the youthful days at their English boarding school Hailsham in the late 1970s—actually since birth—Kathy H (Carey Mulligan), Ruth (Keira Knightley), and Tommy D (Andrew Garfield) already have their lives dictated for them. Rather than growing up, going to America, and getting a job, their fates are donating their vital organs in their young adult lives. 

Director Mark Romanek (2002's "One Hour Photo") and screenwriter Alex Garland command this rendering of Kazuo Ishiguro's 2005 novel with a visually melancholy poetry and seductive storytelling without being overly lugubrious. One wishes, as the logical nitpick is hard to overlook, that the characters (or hell, anyone of the child clones) would attempt to rage against the machine, but rather, they're passive children separated from the real world. One subtly witty scene has the trio having trouble ordering at a cafe since the world is such a mystery to them. The performances make this story urgent whereas the direction is more patient and meditative, although it is beautifully crafted and lushly photographed. And Rachel Portman's score perfectly mirrors the drama happening onscreen without being too aggressively maudlin. 

At the heart and soul of the film, Mulligan is lovely and expressive with her glances as always, essaying a heartbreaking anguish as Kathy. Garfield is impressive, also donning a Brit accent, as Tommy, who clings to his youthful innocence. Knightley is alluringly cruel but not two-dimensional as the jealous Ruth. Their child counterparts (Isobel Meikle-Small, Charlie Rowe, and Ella Purnell) are natural and terrificially cast. Sally Hawkins makes a wonderful impression, however brief, as Miss Lucy, the school's only sympathetic teacher to tell her students the truth of their created existence.

The conceit is science fiction, with words like “carer,” “donor,” and “completion” becoming part of its alternate reality, but "Never Let Me Go" is a classic romantic tragedy to its name and at its core. It's also a depressing experience, so know that your sole purpose at the film's end is to have your heart broken, but well worth the emotional investment.