Movie Review: Never Let Me Go (2010)

Never let me go poster

My name is Kathy H. I’m 28 years old. I’ve been a carer for nine years. And I’m good at my job. My patients always do better than expected, and are hardly ever classified as agitated, even if they’re about to make a donation. I’m not trying to boast, but I feel a great sense of pride in what we do. Carers and donors have achieved so much. That said, we aren’t machines. In the end it wears you down. I suppose that’s why I now spend most of my time not looking forwards, but looking back, to The Cottages and Hailsham, and what happened to us there. Me. Tommy. And Ruth.


In 1952 life changed for people. Life expectancy ballooned to beyond a 100 years. Fast forwarding, a young man (Andrew Garfield) lies on a table smiling at a woman behind the glass watching him. The woman is Kathy H (Carey Mulligan), 28 years old, and as the narrator for Never Let Me Go she introduces herself as a Carer.

Kathy H thinks back to her youth spent at a boarding school Halisham. The children at Halisham are freakishly well behaved and follow orders without protest. Young Kathy (Izzy Meikle-Small) is friends with Ruth (Ella Purnell) and Tommy (Charlie Rowe), a boy who is always being teased by his classmates, especially Ruth. The school children are encouraged to develop their art skills in the hope to get their work up in “the Gallery”.

The new teacher at school, Miss Lucy (Sally Hawkins) struggles to make peace with the children’s fate. She tells the children they are clones, destined to become organ donors in their early twenties, and will eventually die, or “complete” after an average of four organ removals. The next day the headmistress (Charlotte Rampling) informs the school that Miss Lucy has left, presumably fired because she told the children the truth.

Kathy and Tommy start developing feelings for each other, but Ruth intervenes and steals Tommy away from Kathy. Kathy is heartbroken but she doesn’t fight for Tommy back, and he doesn’t seem to be upset by the arrangements either.

A few years later the children are now teenagers, and they leave school to be rehoused in cottages on a farm. They are permitted to wander into town but they are still required to sign in with their bracelets every night. Kathy finds porn magazines and pages through them, and Tommy finds her but isn’t very shocked. Ruth (Keira Knightley) cruelly teases Kathy about this and Kathy is forced to listen to Tommy and Ruth’s lovemaking every night.

Kathy, Ruth and Tommy meat other clones from similar schools on the farm. They tell them that they maybe saw the person Ruth may have been cloned from, a “possible”. They all head into town to investigate but the woman only slightly resembles Ruth and she is upset and tells them they are all cloned from “trash” like criminals and prostitutes.

tommy and kathy

Another rumour running around is the possibility of “deferral” – a temporary stalling of donating your organs if you are deeply in love with another clone and can prove it. Tommy is convinced that the Gallery can see your soul through your artwork and that they can verify true love.

When Ruth and Tommy continue their relationship, Kathy chooses to become a “carer” for some distance between her and the couple. A carer is a clone who is given temporary leave to take care of donors who have begun their donating. Ruth and Tommy break up before Kathy leaves but she is already on her way.

Ten years later Kathy is still working as a Carer. By chance she sees Ruth again who is very frail after two donations. Together they find Tommy, who has also given two donations. Ruth asks them to go to the sea and they comply with her wishes. She asks them forgiveness for her selfishness in keeping them apart and that she always knew they were supposed to be together. Ruth gives them the address of the Madame, the alleged leader of the Gallery in the hopes that it can be established that Tommy and Kathy are in love and have some years together. Kathy is reluctant but agrees it is worth a try. Ruth shortly dies afterwards on the operation table.

Kathy and Tommy finally start their long overdue relationship. Tommy is weak from his donations but together they visit the Madame (Natalie Richard), who lives with Halisham’s old school principle. They tell them that the rumours of deferrals are lies and that there has never been such a thing. The Madame tells them that the Gallery was not there to look into their souls; it was to establish that they even had souls. Broken, they leave and Tommy asks Kathy to stop the car. He finally breaks down, releasing years of pent up rage and frustration. Sobbing, they hold onto each other, knowing their love is doomed.

Returning back to the first shot, Kathy watches as Tommy gets anaesthetised for his third donation. It is his last one and he dies during it. At the ending, Kathy is still alive, but plans to start with her donations as she doesn’t want a slightly longer life as a Carer anymore because Tommy is dead.

Rating: 6.5/10

Never Let Me Go was so strange. It was one of the movies where you want to ask at the end of it: “Really? That’s the end?”

It was based on a book and apparently well done so, but I was constantly waiting for revolution. Did they really not have souls? That is the only way I can understand people not fighting for their lives. They were indoctrinated, sure, but shouldn’t your survival instinct kick in when you know death is near? The doctors are removing your organs, dammit. I thought the three characters were displaying their souls constantly – Kathy was way too sweet and kind to be without a soul, Ruth was horrible and I think that requires a soul, albeit a black one, and Tommy displays his emotions the most and that obviously proves the existence of his.

The dreary English weather definitely contributed to the morose atmosphere of the movie. It was utterly depressing and yet strangely beautiful at the same time.

Carey Mulligan was again cast excellently as Kathy. She seemed innocent and well informed at the same time, not really seeking answers but open to them and so hopeless and accepting of her fate. I desperately wished for her to rip off her bracelet and run. Tommy was weak and very stupid to let Ruth ruin his life like that, because no matter how horrendous Ruth acted as Kathy’s friend, it takes two to tango.

I really, really dislike Keira Knightley. That insufferable pout is so annoying and the way she talks is irritating beyond belief. So, she was in fact excellently cast as Ruth because Ruth is such a horrible character. Ruth was selfish and cruel – if she really wanted a few more years because of the whole love defecting idea – Harisham had plenty of boys she could choose from, Tommy was NOT the only choice available.

I always get a little queasy watching movies of clinical trials / cloning / donating because they aren’t all that off the mark when looking at history. People will always find a way to justify their actions, and I am truly grateful that human cloning is still an impossible task. Never Let Me Go is obviously way out of the range of possibility, but I can’t help but wonder what will happen to the world, desperate for donors, when cloning is realized one day.

This is a deep, reflective movie about life and accepting death. It is not going to cheer you up after a bad day or make you feel positive about the hope for humanity. It is still excellently done and recommended for its’ strong message on life and the questionability of the ethics of the human race.

18 thoughts on “Movie Review: Never Let Me Go (2010)

  1. Great review my friend. While I liked this, I didn’t love it, and certainly felt like something had been missed at the ends of it all.

  2. Pingback: Top Fifteen Favorite stars in young Hollywood | Life of this city girl

  3. Pingback: Five Things Friday: Keira Knightley: 5 Best characters vs. 5 of her Worst characters – Life of this city girl

    • I now remember this movie as really depressing. Definitely not my favorite of Garland, and it really didn’t convince me to like Keira Knightley more 🙂

    • Ha! Of Garland I’ve only seen Ex-Machina and Never Let Me Go. Both are thought-provoking and really good.

      As for the Russian name – I really don’t know, my parents did it on a whim 😀

      • I saw it on your twitter account that you’re from Johannesburg. That is incredible. I’ve just been reading recently that more and more Hollywood movies are shot in South Africa (I remember Chronicle, then Dredd – for which Garland wrote the script, by the way. Ok, enough about this guy 😏).

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