Book Vs. Film: Never Let Me Go

Today’s the first edition of Book Vs. Film! Our first contestant is the book/movie Never Let Me Go.

Book Review: Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go, penned by author Kazuo Ishiguro, is a novel I predicted from the beginning:

Page 5: Nice start…simple and pretty descriptions…

Page 50: Oh God, enough with these hazy memories already!

Page 100: I really don’t care…just get to the point of your story. *

Page 200: Do it for RFB…do it for RFB…

Page 288: Are you serious? I put two weeks in for this?!

*I later found out there was no point to this story.

Synopsis? Ishiguro’s novel revolves around three main characters- Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy, students of a futuristic school named Hailsham, where children are raised for lives already molded for them: they will donate their bodily organs to people in need, until they “complete”. Now in her thirties, Kathy looks back on her life, and tries to decipher her elusive life at Hailsham.

It sounds interesting, right? But there’s only two things I can applaud the book for: its innovative concept and defying the “rules” of the writing world. Futuristic societies have always piqued my interest, and that’s the main reason I choose Mr. Kazuo’s novel. In addition, a slew of “established” authors proclaim to rarely and barely use flashbacks in one’s work. Ishiguro’s novel defies that so-called law: 90% of the book is flashbacks, and it is not confusing and never gets ahead of itself. However, the book fails to deliver on several different levels.

Perhaps these kinds of novels are not my taste: The book is a kind of, ‘take a seat, let me tell you this peaceful little story’ type of novel. But it gets old very quickly. As Kathy recounts old memories at Hailsham and her life afterwards, it gets very repetitive. Every resurrected memory is “remembered” the exact same way, and around the 6th time or so, you can pretty much predict where the story is turning. And among these descriptions of the past, the pages are plumped and filled with countless hazy descriptions – not idyllic or peaceful: boring. I suppose when you read a novel, you’re not supposed to get forget most of the material.

The characters are fine, but the whole notion of Ruth is irritating at best. How does anyone befriend her is beyond me. She’s ‘happy, nice, loving best friend’ at one moment, then ‘evil, snappy, rude enemy’ at the next. And not even the way most people in real life are enigmatic: Ruth is laughable and verging on bi-polar.

Overall, this book was a major disappointment: mostly I was disappointed with myself, because I saw it coming, and I kept trudging through it. ☆☆ and 1/2 stars

Movie Review: Never Let Me Go

Now this one had great potential. But despite its touching conclusion, the film commits the deadly book adaptations sins, namely: change major aspects of the novel for seemingly no reason and trying to cram in the most important elements of the book, despite the fact the whole pace feels rushed; the movie version of Never Let Me Go equals the novel in enjoyability.

But I would like to commend the good qualities of the film before I expose its deficiencies: the tremendous acting (especially in one particular scene) and the last few words spoken by Kathy. Though the children actors who depicted the smaller Ruth, Tommy and Kathy were highly irritating, their grown-up counterparts were impeccable. Carey Mulligan excels as usual as sweet, thoughtful Kathy, Keira Knightley fits the role perfectly of malicious Ruth (no offense), and Andrew Garfield needs no comment because he is a perfect actor, the end. Case in point: when Tommy and Ruth meet Madame and Miss Emily to discuss donation deferrals, the emotion in the room is overwhelming and heartbreaking. With sub-par actors, the power of that scene would have been non-existent.

And Kathy’s last words are the highlight of the film: “What I’m not sure about, is if our lives have been so different from the lives of the people we save. We all complete. Maybe none of us really understand what we’ve lived through, or feel we’ve had enough time.” 

Cue tears.

But what’s wrong with the film? Well, it flounders in the same way the novel does. 3/4 of the movie is flat, hazy, and extremely rushed (and a film is not a good film if it only gets “good” in the last fifteen minutes). And for some reason, they change several aspects of the novel: Tommy gives Kathy the Judy Bridgewaters music cassette, instead of Kathy finding it for herself; Ruth, not Madame, catches Kathy dancing with her pillow (who pretends it’s a newborn child), and Mark Romanek completely eliminates the good qualities of Ruth, making her into a complete demon. Why? The only reasonable suggestion I could come up with was so they could put a greater emphasis on the romantic relationship between Tommy and Ruth: it’s so heavy Ruth vs. Tommy and Kathy, it loses some of the reflective qualities of the novel, making it into an typical love-triangle story, just different circumstances for its characters.

And it is rushed so horribly, which is not too much of its fault. It tried to find the best events to include in the movie, but it still falters. I still feel that if the movie had more time (not 3 hours of course, but just 30 minutes more) it could truly be a better film and give the audience more time to know, feel for, and appreciate its starring trio. But we all can’t get what we want, right? ☆☆☆

19 thoughts on “Book Vs. Film: Never Let Me Go

  1. I wasn’t expecting this film to grab a hold of me (never let me go, as it were) quite like it did. I haven’t read the book and appreciate the comparison. I don’t think I will read it but it is interesting to me to finally see someone rank a movie higher than its source material.

    i was impressed with the film.

  2. I haven’t read the book, but the movie was so lackluster to me. The premise was interesting if it wasn’t so obvious something was amiss. Nothing ever seemed to amount to much throughout the film and it really left me cold. The only positive for me was Andrew Garfield’s performance. Before seeing the film I wanted to read the book-now, not so much.

  3. My brother lent me this book just before I went on a sunny weekend away in the countryside. It really wasn’t the right book for a holiday! It was so depressing! I was so disgusted with the storyline, which only dawned on me gradually. I should have taken a much more light-hearted book to read! I never recommend this book to anyone who likes ‘happy’ books, because I know that they won’t like it.

    I’ve been meaning to watch the film. Hopefully I’ll get around to it sometime!

  4. The film really stayed with me for days after I saw it – the somber ambiance really permeated me! I think I followed it up with some His Girl Friday as a cheer me up.

    By the way, I love how clean your blog format is – even the header is very clean and it really lures the reader in.

  5. I was somewhat bored with the film if I recall correctly… and you’re right, there was far too little nuance to Keira Knightley’s character. It’s such a cop-out to have someone in a love triangle be the “bad guy.”

    Overall it wasn’t bad, but it didn’t leave me with any desire to read the book. I don’t mind flashbacks in novels (Water for Elephants, Atonement) but this story already drags, I can see how flashbacks would exacerbate that problem.

  6. Agree about the excellent performances, the cinematography also impressed me.

    I liked that there was room for the audience to interpret, if it was a good idea for the youngsters to be told, or not told, about their future. Innocent children being brainwashed is a scary thought.

    The theme of Ishiguro’s novel – that we all construct delicate fictions to mask the fact we are all going to die in the end, to me, makes the story universal.
    Your life is ending, one minute at a time…We may value our freedom even more when we see dystopian examples.

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