Thursday, October 14, 2010

On Never Let Me Go

I finally read Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro recently, and now I find out they made it into a movie.  I have some mixed feelings about that. 

I saw an ad for the limited release, independent film while flipping through someone's City Pages at a corporate outing to, of all places, a local beer brewery.  I was somewhat stunned (not just by the beer fumes); I would not have thought of the book as one that would translate well into film.  It would be difficult to get that sustained sense of low key creeping horror/dread going without the narrator's voice in the book, and it was all so unhurriedly told with such detached melancholy.  Then again, one of my biggest problems with the book is that I didn't like the narrator/POV character, so maybe being out of her head would be better.  You see, she's what we're all told in writing is the cardinal sin for a POV character: someone who is almost totally passive.  (That's not really why I disliked her; I'm totally fine with passive POV characters who don't go along with the flow to gain the approval of someone who encourages them to do wrong, whose opinion shouldn't matter, and who abuses her power.  I'm fine with passive characters who THINK.  Then again, this whole story construct wouldn't have worked its atmosphere without such an unthinking character in the lead . . .)

One of the things the book did well that I could see a movie possibly doing better is leaving a lot up to the audience.  Since it's an independent film, I'd like to believe that's more likely.  Nowadays, cheesy acting to show that something bad is going on is probably less likely, and melodramatic or annoying music or sound cues would be less likely, as well.  And I would love to hear the song that gives the story its name because it's described so beautifully in the book.

Upon seeing the ad, I wondered if they changed the ending.  The book's ending is just not cinematic at all unless you like your resolution long and sad and, honestly, unresolved.  Brilliant, don't get me wrong, but I could see actual speculative fiction fans crying foul because so much of the mechanics of the world are just never even acknowledged.  Anyway, I'm not sure I'll see the movie because it's rated R because it sounds like the movie decided not to be as subtle and elegant about the sex as the book was, and that's a shame.  This work didn't need to show any explicit sex because it was more about connections and disconnections of a different kind.

I'm always nervous when a subtle, slow-burn sort of speculative fiction story gets turned into a movie because the subtleties tend to get blunted, and things get said and summarized and compacted all out of their original beautiful shape. 

MaryAnn Johanson: "[C]om[es] at its horrors gently, almost idyllically... This is science fiction of a keen but subtle sort... so gorgeously delicate and lovely a film that it’s almost impossible to convey how (appropriately) horrific it is..."

Roger Moore: "Lovely and melancholy, poignant and chilling, Never Let Me Go is an old school sci-fi dystopia with lovely, wistful performances that never quite overcome the fatalism that hangs over the whole affair."

The reviews are decidedly mixed on whether that's the case.  For some people, it sounds like the experience of book translated well to film.  Eric Melin said, "Like great science fiction should, it serves as an allegory and inspires some deep thinking about the world we live in now."  I totally agree.  Tom Long called "Oddly cold and detached" what Amy Biancolli of the Houston Chronicle called "superbly crafted, shot with the self-contained radiance of a snow globe."  I think they both caught the same thing there but judged and reacted to it differently.   The TomatoMeter summary seems apt, too.  "With Never Let Me Go, Mark Romanek has delivered a graceful adaptation that captures the spirit of the Ishiguro novel -- which will be precisely the problem for some viewers."

Biancolli's pull quote at Rotten Tomatoes was pretty excellent in summing up both my experience of the book and her experience of the movie.   "Never Let Me Go is gorgeous. And depressing. It's exquisitely acted. And depressing. It's romantic, profound and superbly crafted, shot with the self-contained radiance of a snow globe. And it's depressing."

(Which is a recommendation for those who like their literature to make them think.)

Anybody seen it?  Read it?  Any opinions either way?

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