As I mentioned before, I read the book first and I just saw the movie last night. For this particular film, I might advertise that you see the movie first. Kazuo Ishiguro‘s writing is remarkably vivid and at times during the film I felt that the visuals Ishiguro achieved with his words were more stunning and more detailed than what I was seeing on screen. I felt I had a much more complete picture of Ruth Tommy, and Kathy’s world from the novel.
In the same way the “medley” quality of the novel, that is, its manner of simultaneously being different types of story- sociopolitical commentary, racial metaphor, love story, science fiction, horror – was lost in the film version. The plot itself is strong so we don’t lose everything, but the film seems mostly concerned with the love story. That said, I’m not sure that the tragic love story alone was the cause of all the masked sniffles and self-conscious throat clearing in the theater. Certainly both the book and the movie speak to the fundamentally human frustration of wanting more time. In fact, I think at one point our narrator hits us over the head with this theme.
The love story focus (paired with the phenomenal performances of Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield) had its desired impact – nearly everyone in the theater was at least tearing up, if not outright bawling like the lady at the end of my aisle. But I have to say I was sad not to see more focus on racial metaphor. Namely, art as a means of proving one’s humanity.
In the novel there is a scene where one of the ‘guardians’ at the school tells Kathy H. that they collected the students’ art to see if they had souls at all. I couldn’t help but make the connection to the trials of Phillis Wheatley, one of the first published African Americans, who had to withstand trial to prove that she was indeed the author of her collection of poems, because white Americans did not believe that black slaves had that fundamental human quality that made them capable of writing poetry, of creating art. In the film adaptation of Never Let Me Go the metaphor is barely visible in the hullabaloo over this tragic love story.
Would I recommend it? Sure. Especially if you want to cry, but maybe don’t read the book first. If you already have, don’t worry, you’ll still cry.