Movie Review: Kazuo Ishiguro Double Feature: Never Let Me Go (2010) and The Saddest Music in the World (2003)


The other day I unintentionally seeped myself in two of British writer Kazuo Ishiguro’s cinematic endeavors with a viewing of Never Let Me Go (because it looked so awesome), based on his titular novel, and The Saddest Music in the World (for a podcast discussion, and because it looked so awesome), for which he wrote the screenplay. They’re very, very different films, but somehow worked well together. Let’s take a look!

The quietly resonant Never Let Me Go imagines an alternate history of medical science in which most diseases have been cured with clones grown for organ farming. The short life of Kathy H (Carey Mulligan) is explored through flashbacks- her time spent at a rustic, isolated boarding school with other “special” creepy-as-hell white children, then at 18 her transfer to a farm house that marked her first interaction with the outside world, and then her career as a “carer” for those undergoing their donations. The lifelong love triangle that develops between Kathy and fellow students Ruth (Keira Knightley) and Tommy (Andrew Garfield) dominates her tale.

This movie is basically exactly what I thought it would be- and I mean that in the best way. It is a gorgeously-shot, evenly-paced, subtle love story steeped in atmospheric science-fiction. I haven’t read the book yet (I will!), so I can’t speak to its merits as an adaptation, but as a stand-alone film it certainly works. The story itself is familiar and simplistic while the premise is imaginative and complex. The script treats both the love story and the science-fiction elements in a thoughtful, nuanced manner. It’s never too obvious, treating the relationships and the gradual maturation of Kathy’s character realistically.

Mulligan is honing in on the main “adorable but also legitimately talented actress” spot, proving herself adept at portraying smart, driven young women. I normally can’t stand Keira Knightley, but I do find her believable as a bossy, annoying lady, plus she isn’t in it all that much. Andrew Garfield is cute but a bit too goofy and I would have liked more insight into his character. And this movie needed more Sally Hawkins, mostly because she is great. Otherwise, Never Let Me Go is a truly beautiful, intelligent, and compelling film.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: My first instinct is Parts: The Clonus Horror, for a much campier, 70’s version of the clones-for-organs premise. I’d suggest the MST3K version though. Or there’s its overblown, blatant rip-off The Island.

My original art for this film is for sale.

Oddly enough I first knew about The Saddest Music in the World only because of its connection to Kids in the Hall, as it stars Mark McKinney (admittedly my least favorite of the gang, but I’m always interested in following everyone’s post-KITH careers). Later I learned more about its intriguing auteur Guy Maddin, but somehow years went by and I only just watched it last week. Thanks for the push, Allison! The story concerns a Depression-era world-wide competition hosted by the beautiful legless bar owner Lady Port-Huntley (Isabella Rossellini), who seeks to find which country has the saddest music.

Canadian-born American convert Chester Kent (McKinney), an old flame of the Lady’s, represents the USA with a flashy performance featuring his new girlfriend Narcissa (Maria de Medeiros). His surly ex-pat brother Roderick (Ross McMillan) represents his new home of Serbia with doleful cello music. The return of both men to Winnipeg launches a series of mix-ups while dredging up unwanted memories.

With its ever-present soft focus, grainy black-and-white, sporadic use of color filters, and quick-cut editing, this film never offers a dull visual moment. The script is weird and very funny, completely aware of its own quirks and oddities. It’s got amnesia, hypochondria, dismemberment, and a delightful pair of beer-filled glass gams. And of course: music numbers! There’s a good mix of instrumental and vocal songs with different national influences, and several versions of “This Song Is You”, an old-fashioned tune Roderick writes for his wife to hear. The performances are very fun and over the top, and I especially enjoyed McKinney and McMillan, as well as the goofy commentator couple. We’ll be talking about this in-depth in the next episode of Some Cast It Hot, so I’ll save the rest of my thoughts for that!

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Its blurry visuals and chatty weirdness will mix well together with the stark black and white look and long silences of Béla Tarr’s Werckmeister Harmonies.

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