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An Alternative Guide to Great Movies: Never Let Me Go (2010)

PUBLISHED: 18:00 19 January 2018 | UPDATED: 08:29 22 January 2018

Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley discover they are not as other people in the chilling alternative reality thriller Never Let Me Go. Photo: Film 4

Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley discover they are not as other people in the chilling alternative reality thriller Never Let Me Go. Photo: Film 4

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Movies that tell a good story and have engaging characters provide that all-important re-watch value necessary for a great film. Arts editor Andrew Clarke presents a series of idiosyncratic suggestions for movies which may entertain if you are in the mood for something different.

Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley discover they are not as other people in the chilling alternative reality thriller Never Let Me Go. Photo: Film 4 Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley discover they are not as other people in the chilling alternative reality thriller Never Let Me Go. Photo: Film 4

Never Let Me Go; dir: Mark Romanek; starring: Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, Keira Knightley, Charlotte Rampling, Sally Hawkins, Andrea Riseborough, Domhnall Gleeson. Cert: 12 (2010)

For some people science fiction is all about spaceships firing lasers, performing spectacular loop the loop twists and turns and dealing with aliens from another world.

For others, they like their science fiction to be a little bit more down-to-earth, more alternative reality rather than space fantasy.

Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley discover they are not as other people in the chilling alternative reality thriller Never Let Me Go. Photo: Film 4 Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley discover they are not as other people in the chilling alternative reality thriller Never Let Me Go. Photo: Film 4

Based on Kazuo Ishiguro’s best-selling novel, Never Let Me Go explores a world, a parallel reality, where children are genetically created and farmed to be organ donors, effectively making ‘normal’, traditionally born humans almost immortal.

What makes this haunting tale so compelling and uncomfortable is the fact that the test-tube organ donors don’t realise that they are not ‘real people’ while they are growing up. The whole film focuses on what makes us human and makes us examine the very nature of society.

Never Let Me Go is a fabulously rich, entertaining and at times unsettling discussion about ethics and the way that science is forcing us to become philosophers as well as bio-chemical engineers. We may have the technological skills to create virtual human beings but do we have the ethical sophistication to deal with moral repercussions?

Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley discover they are not as other people in the chilling alternative reality thriller Never Let Me Go. Photo: Film 4 Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley discover they are not as other people in the chilling alternative reality thriller Never Let Me Go. Photo: Film 4

If this all sounds rather heavy, then don’t worry because everything is played out and told in an elegant and hugely engaging story which draws you in and involves you in a quest for truth and identity.

But, truth be told, it also works extremely well as an intriguing, understated, very British love story.

The narrator and out guide Kathy (Mulligan) take us back to her childhood, at a boarding school in the late ‘70s. At Hailsham, there is a lot of emphasis on self-sacrifice and community spirit and no-one dares to venture beyond the boundary fence which surrounds the school.

Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley discover they are not as other people in the chilling alternative reality thriller Never Let Me Go. Photo: Film 4 Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley discover they are not as other people in the chilling alternative reality thriller Never Let Me Go. Photo: Film 4

The plot is packed with hints and insinuations, as the youngsters gather information about what’s real from hearsay and fragments of half-heard conversations and receive help from one particularly outspoken teacher (Hawkins). We learn early on that these young people, bred to keep their organic counterparts alive, rarely make it out of their early 20s.

As they increasingly realise what the future has in store for them they set out to uncover their true origins and try to find a way to survive.

We see that both Kathy and her best friend Ruth (Knightley) have a crush on the school oddball Tommy (Garfield). Kathy finds herself protecting Tommy, a sensitive misfit with a passion for art, a constant target for the bullies, but by the time they leave school, it is Tommy and Ruth who have become a couple.

After a spell at The Cottages, a rural retreat which replicates some elements of the university house-sharing environment, jealousy and infatuation among the trio sets in and the housemates hatch a plan to find out more about the outside world.

The performances from all the actors are very good but Mulligan and Garfield are especially strong, as they carry us through the film’s most unsettling scenes in a beautifully understated way. It seems that if society wants to live longer then someone has to pay a heavy price.

If Romanek directing of the actors is perceptive and unflashy then his photography is exquisite. It’s a film with a lot of ideas but the audience is allowed to approach them on their own terms. There is no heavy-handed moralising or swooping musical scores to tell you what to think.

This is a film not only with a real emotional core, but is also a film with plenty to say and is not afraid to make us think about the sort of world we are living in.

It’s a masterly study of three fragile people trying to be happy in a society which regards their emotional life as utterly irrelevant. It’s a riveting film that gracefully leaves us chilled by our own inhumanity.

To freeborn people, the organ donors are bred to sacrifice themselves. They don’t have a life, they don’t matter. It’s this callousness that really brings you up sharp and makes you think about the implications of this in a world where are starting to clone animals and experiment further with test-tube genetics.

This is a film that’s deeply relevant but it’s also beautifully directed and acted.

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