April 13, 2011


No running please, we're British.
Hopefully you won't consider the next part a spoiler, as the film has been out for awhile, has been reviewed and it is really given away in the first few minutes: this is a sci-fi film about three clones, our narrator Kathy H. (Carey Mulligan) and her two close friends Ruth (Keira Knightly) and Tommy (Andrew Garfield). This is no whiz-bang action spectacle sci-fi; it approaches similar material as The Island from a completely different direction.

Tommy, Ruth and Kathy H. all attend Hailsham together, and from first glance it's just another poncy private English school. Ruth and Kathy H. are best friends and Tommy is the quiet, shy boy that ends up coming between them. There are small hints and clues, both in the film and narration, that all is not really what it seems; that this isn't a normal school for normal children. These kids are special, they've been bred and raised special. And we spend a fair amount of time with these characters as children. Aside from the small differences, those oddity's that stand out mainly due to their slightness, these are just three regular kids mucking through school. The only upset comes with a new teacher, Ms. Lucy (Sally Hawkins) who expressly tells these children what they are for: to be chopped up. To have their vital organs "donated" to extend the lives of others and to have absolutely no say in the matter. Ms. Lucy does not last long at Hailsham. And then these children are grown up and, knowing their ultimate fate, just keep going. This fact, the simple fact that these characters barely do anything to avoid their fate... well, that was simply a bit much for me. 

Why, for the love of Bay, don't they run?! I can understand that this may be a concept they do not understand; that they have been bred and raised to accept their destiny, their "completion". But, given the time period covered in the film (from the 60's through to the early 90's), I would have thought someone, somewhere would have kicked up a fuss about this sort of program. Ms. Lucy (Sally Hawkins) is the only person who enters the film from outside the bubble of "donors" and "carers". I guess the characters never even reach the stage of giving up, because they barely have anything to aspire to in the first place. And yes, I know it's really not the point of the film and perhaps it's just my Hollywood-raised brain demanding action, but I find it hard to believe that anyone, any human, would just willingly go along with having their body chopped up, especially if they're in love. 

Luckily, the film is anchored by three incredibly powerful performances. Andrew Garfield and Carey Mulligan are two of the most wonderfully human actors of their generation. Where Ewan McGregor was acting his childlike curiosity for the world in The Island (and very, very well mind you), Garfield just is childishly curious. And where Kathy H. could have been cold and aloof, Mulligan makes her sympathetic and the real heart of the trio. Knightly is, quite bravely for a Hollywood starlet, the ugly cold bitch of a best friend. There's an insecurity Ruth carries with her and Knightly isn't afraid to give us glimpses of it through her haughty demeanour. She is hurtful to Kathy in the way only a best friend can be. I haven't read the original novel so cannot comment on Alex Garland's adaptation but the script, as a script, is quiet beautiful. While I may have a problem with something at the centre of the film, so many moments are just perfect: the three clones out at a coffee house for the first time, Kathy flipping through porno magazines to find her original, Tommy with no hope left. This is also down to, of course, director Mark Romanek. He shows a deft hand, never overplaying things (indeed understatement is the name of the game here) and really makes you wonder what his Wolfman would have been like. 

I guess the glib answer to the question of why they don't run is: they're British. Running would simply be causing too much of a fuss. Thinking about it as I've been writing this, however, has made me more... forgiving in my own mind of this aspect of the film. It's intelligent, beautiful, funny and heart breaking. I would dearly love to read the novel now and, after that, revisit the film.And, really, that's one of the best things you can say about a film isn't it?


  1. Oh I'm SO glad you liked it!
    It's one of those movies I worry about recommending because I'm not really okay with people not liking it.

  2. Enjoyed this review Andy and while I don't agree with it all, there's no denying the performances from the leads are sensational.

    And do check out Mulligan in "Blink" when you have a chance. How can you not like a character called Sally Sparrow.

  3. I'm with you on that question. I would've given the film a perfect score if they'd, either:
    a) had shots of security guards with menacing guns checking up on them from time-to-time
    b) shown us the results of someone attempting to leave (eg: they run away, and then come back with no eyes, legs and arms)
    c) or shown the way society would treat them if they did manage to run away (eg: something about them makes them appear different, so the world persecutes those who escape mercilessly )

    I just didn't buy it either. Loved the film to bits, don't get me wrong, but without a motivation to stay put I was not even remotely invested in their outcome.