Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

07 November 2010

Never Let Go, Jack

Mark Romanek's film of Kazuo Ishiguro's beautiful novel Never Let Me Go does not work at all. I am not going to post a long diatribe about this, because it's too late to save the movie, but it's really a shame that this movie is not better.

The film of Never Let Me Go completely misses the friendship that is so apparent in the books; instead, the movie seems to think that the most important relationship in the story is Tommy & Kathy's. By focusing on Kathy's unconsummated love for Tommy, the movie misses the importance and real feeling of Kathy's relationship with Ruth. The trouble with this is that Kathy and Ruth's relationship is the point.

The movie also cuts almost all of the references to the "Never Let Me Go" song. This means we miss out on Tommy and Kathy's search for the old tape (instead, they moon at one another on a pier and look very serious). It also means that the scene with Madame at the end lacks any content whatsoever (in the film Madame says only "you poor creatures" or something equally banal). And the final sequence with the ideas about lost things from childhood washing up on the shore relates to nothing from earlier in the film because everything has been cut.

And the movie cuts all the sex. Ugh. It's like they started to write a screenplay and got all prudish. So instead of Kathy experimenting and finding pleasure, she mopes and cries about how much she loves Tommy, and when they finally have sex near the end of the film, the movie behaves as though she's been saving herself for him. This is ideological nonsense, of course, and an incredibly sex-negative twist on a very sex-positive book.

Worse yet, the movie is really bleak. It is almost oppressively downbeat, and the actors in the film (delightful though they may be, and I am fond of all of them) do nothing to cheer up the mood even when that is possible. Sally Hawkins is the only one who brings a modicum of cheer to the picture.

Finally, and here I will stop berating the movie for its failings, the last sequence in the film makes explicit what is only ever implicit in the book – that the lives of these young clones are the same as the lives of "real" people. This is clear in the book because of Kathy's relationship with Ruth, because of the nuances of feeling between them, because of her ability to care for Ruth, because of their desires and curiosities and explorations. In the film it becomes a sententious little speech that feels like a homily at the end of a – frankly, rather boring – church service.

So: read the book. It is lovely. Really. And skip this funeral of a movie. You will be glad you did.