There's something more eerie than a dystopia: a dystopia in which no one understands they’re living in a dystopia. The extraordinarily moving and deeply unsettling Never Let Me Go — based on the novel of the same name by Kazuo Ishiguro — comes at its horrors gently, almost idyllically. It allows us to see everything that has gone awry in this alternate world without ever letting its characters do the same.
The carefree and joyous students of Halesham, a remote English boarding school, are bright, attractive, and prone to all the usual childhood complaints, from fighting when they shouldn’t and falling into heartbreaking romances at ever-so tender ages. When new teacher Miss Lucy (Sally Hawkins) reveals that they are being raised so that one day, not too far in the future, they’ll make “donations” to ensure the long lives of others, it barely registers with the children; it has no bearing on their lives at the moment. What does register? Young Kathy (Isobel Meikle-Small), who is secretly in love with Tommy (Charlie Rowe), sees her best friend Ruth (Ella Purnell) holding Tommy’s hand, and she’s devastated. That’s what’s real to them.
Never Let Me Go is so gorgeously delicate and lovely a film that it’s almost impossible to convey how horrific it is. As young adults, the trio decide to investigate the rumor that if a couple is truly in love, they might be given a waiver to live together for a few extra years before beginning their “donations.” Now played by Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, and Keira Knightley — all demonstrating that they are among the best actors of their generation — Kathy, Tommy and Ruth throw as much fervor and passion into their investigation as they do into their lovemaking. Through it all, we can only watch, appalled and mystified, that no one — no one — thinks to question the rightness of their assigned deaths or devises plans to run away. Their enormous blind spot is downright astonishing and absolutely tragic. (Rated R)