Sunday, May 15, 2011

film review of Never let me go: atonement theology at it’s worst and best

A 500 word (monthly) film review by Steve Taylor (for Touchstone magazine). Film reviews of the most common contemporary films, each with a theological perspective, (over 60) back to 2005 can be found here.

Never let me go
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

This is a haunting movie. Directed by Mark Romanek it remains deeply disturbing long after the credits roll. The film is based on a novel by Japanese-born British author Kazuo Ishiguro. Short listed for the 2005 Booker, adapted for the big screen by Alex Garland, it provides some profound questions about being human and the person and work of Jesus.

The movie begins with Ruth (Carey Mulligan) watching her lover, Tommy (Andrew Garfield), preparing to be anesthetised on an operating table.

What follows is a cinematic triptych, elegantly woven together by the evolving love triangle between three friends, Ruth, Tommy and Kathy (Keira Knightley).

The year is 1978 and the friends are children (convincingly played by Ella Purnell, Charlie Rowe, Isobel Meikle-Small) at Hailsham School. What seems sheltered increasingly grows sinister, innocence hemmed by stories of dismembered bodies and evidence of repressed emotions.

Next, the year is 1985 and the children emerge into adolescence. The tension in the love triangle escalates and a sinister future becomes frightfully clearer. The three have been bred as organ donors, born to be broken apart in adulthood, spare lungs and limbs to ensure other humans are healthy.

Finally, the year is 1994 and in adulthood the three friends become re-entangled, each forced to confront their past and future.

Much of this makes little logical sense. Why don’t these three fight or flee? What events have breed a society in which humans exchange organs? Unnervingly, these unexplained absences, while perplexing, serve to make a plot simply more haunting.

In the final scene Ruth is alone. She contemplates her death, facing a fence on which pieces of plastic flap emptily on the wind. A chilling and senseless isolation is complete. All that remain are Ruth’s final words.

“Do we feel life so differently from the people we save?”

The word “save” jumped out, the idea that hunks of flesh ripped from one person’s body might prove essential to the salvation of another. Which brought to mind the Passion of Holy Week and the Christian gospels, which describe a body whipped and pierced. And the claim that such an act of brutality was essential to human redemption.

Are we really catching a glimpse of the Christian understanding of the person and work of Jesus?

Perhaps a difference is that of choice. Ruth, Kathy and Tommy are born to die, the days of their lives based on the whim of another. In contrast, in the Garden of Gethsemane we glimpse a Christ choosing to drink from the cup of human suffering.

While at Hailsham, Tommy gives Kathy a cassette tape of a (fictional) singer Judy Bridgewater. Kathy grows to treasure one song in particular, titled, appropriately, “Never let me go.” She grasps it not as a love song, but as a mother’s plea to her baby. The song, a recurring musical note running the length of the movie, offers another way to understand the Easter experience. That in and through acts of perverse human brutality is the reality that in Jesus, we realise that God will “never let us go.”

Posted by steve at 06:29 PM


  1. Hey there.

    I’ve been enjoying reading over your reviews, but thought I should let you know that you got the names of the two main girls in this movie mixed up – Kathy is the main character who is played by Carey Mulligan, while Ruth is the one played by Keira Knightley.

    Also, in one of your other reviews you got the title of the film/book wrong: it’s called ‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’ rather than ‘Extremely Loud and Up Close.’

    Other than that, keep up the good work!

    Comment by Cat — January 24, 2013 @ 11:09 am

  2. Oh, sorry. You got the Kathy bit right at the end, just not at the beginning of the review.

    Comment by Cat — January 24, 2013 @ 11:11 am

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