By Kacy Boccumini

There are many ways to measure a human life.  You can measure it in time, objectively.  You can measure it in quality, tangibly.  You can measure it by what you’ve lost and gained, by the imprint you have made on others, or you can simply say that you were here, and that alone is enough.  Never Let Me Go is a quiet, gentle reminder that life – no matter how it is measured – still breathes, holds, and remains.

Not since Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind has a film so sensually taken hold of the science fiction genre and French kissed it with such emotion.  And to call it science fiction, to call it a love triangle, to measure it at all other than to say it never lets you go, would be a waste of time.  And in this alternate universe, where the world is free of infection, where embryos are raised until ripened and harvested to completion, time is precious.

After the opening credits of soft muted colors fading into each other, like phases on a microscope, we are introduced to Kathy H., painfully and angelically embodied by the rising star that is Carey Mulligan. Her face, innocent and at the same time weathered and at the same time… hopeful, simply breaks your heart.  She is our narrator and main focus throughout the story.  She explains that she is but 28 years of age, and that like the story she promises to tell us, this moment means nothing without first looking back and the past.

The first color from the opening montage returns, and the first part of the story begins.    Hailsham School is a uniform and unique school for boys and girls.  You know nothing of the school except that the children have ID badges that record the entrance and exit of the facilities, they have administrators that are refereed to as “guardians”, they are to remain as healthy as possible, and they live in fear of the world outside the gates.  The rules are very simple, and they are followed in explicit detail.  It would seem idyllic; in fact, the children are told quite frankly that they are special. The children delight in their goodness, until their new guardian Miss Lucy, played by Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky), explains exactly what it is that makes them special.  Like all things that seem to never end, a limit is set and the clock starts ticking.

Innocence, in all of its definitions and applications, exist in the world of Kathy, Ruth (Keira Knightley’s), and Tommy (Andrew Garfield).  They know what they are to become, but as Miss Lucy puts it, they still have to determine who they are to be.  They are special because of their bodies, and so they begin to develop into them and thus into the world of adulthood, and eventually their completion.  They float from each phase of their life, marked by a different muted color, yearning to exist fully in a world they never quite occupy.  This is conveyed in the delicate focus and non-focus used in each scene.  Like a newborn learning to use new eyes, the aperture exposes new ways of seeing a frame that looked so different just minutes ago, luring the story on through the experience of growing with it, and learning how to understand what it is seeing.  Each scene is delicately placed and perfectly in rhythm with the story.

There is a particularly incredible long shot where Ruth is pushing herself down a hallway (and the plot line with her) while speaking to Kathy, and with great difficulty and after suffering great loss, turns the corner.  The great depth of the shot illustrates exactly how long it has taken her to get there, and how painful that journey has been.  It is an incredible statement and yet it was conveyed so effortlessly  – without so much as a spec of dialogue needed.  Keira Knightley’s performance in this is epic in all senses, evoking a spectrum of projections of femininity from Farrah Fawcett to Bette Davis, and giving us an eclipse of a character arc.  There is no doubt this will garner her a handful of Supporting Actress nominations and she should clear her mantel in preparation.

Like every triangle, there is a single point of focus, and in this story it is Tommy D.  Starting out as a boy with a big heart and a bigger temper, Tommy’s emotions catch the attention of caregiver Kathy.  Unfortunately, in an exercise in “mis-guidance”, Miss Lucy is able to pacify those emotions, spiraling him further away from himself and his own humanity.  Although his good deeds draw Kathy in, igniting her sexually and evoking the title of the film, the more developed Ruth becomes envious of Kathy, then victorious of Tommy, and thus the triangle is complete.  Although it takes some time and energy, Garfield’s (Social Network) sensitive and hopeful Tommy puts the ache in heartache, and it is his story that carries us through to the completion of the tale.  It is his character arc, the verifiable truth of his soul, his existence, which brings the story home.

As promised, the story returns you to where it began.  And now you understand even more what Kathy has seen, and what she is watching now.  You understand that she is aptly named a “carer” because that is what she has done throughout, cared deeply for all that was donated to the world, and is living verifiable proof that it was all more, much more, than the sum of its parts.

Not since Dancer in the Dark has a character suffered in such silence, but unlike Selma, Mulligan’s Kathy is an agent in her own right not a victim of her circumstance.  This is a very powerful stroke of genius that is barely noticed and not a moment overacted, and Mulligan will once again be in the company of four other Best Actress Nominees at many award shows. Her arc is her consistency, throughout which all other things, people, places were allowed to exist.  She carries them with her, in her memory; they are apart of her, regardless of what else is taken or what has already gone.  And unlike Knightley’s range, and Garfield’s stunning sequences, Mulligan has carried the weight of the film, which is pounds and pounds, on the turn of her smile, the raise of her eyebrow, and the drop of a well placed and heart-shattering tear.

In the world in which we are introduced, the human race has hope against all things – no cancer, no sickness, no loss.  This is a story about the hopes of the hopeless that make the world’s heart beat one minute longer.  This is our reminder of what life can be, what it always should be about, no matter who or what is living it.    I have never read Kazou  Ishiguro’s (Remains of the Day) novel of the same name, but it is hard to imagine that this film under represents anything.  This is a cinematic masterpiece of the likes I have never seen.  From the opening seconds of screen time, to the very last image, it will take you in, and as a promised, it will never let go.