Book to Movie Monday: Never Let Me Go

The original version of this meme is from Bring My Books.

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Today I want to talk about one of my favorite books, Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro, which was adapted into a movie in 2010. Despite the fact that the movie had three very big names in the lead roles (Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, and Andrew Garfield), it didn’t gain a lot of popularity, and most of my friends have never even heard of it.

(I am NOT going to discuss the plot of the book or movie here, because there’s a big twist/secret and I don’t want to give it away. Instead I’ll discuss the characters and emotions of both.)


Ishiguro is a fantastic author, and Never Let Me Go features a lot of his usual themes, especially the reflection between past and future. It’s a character-driven story, and (most important in my opinion) has a romance that defines the entire course of the story.

As children, Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy were students at Hailsham, an exclusive boarding school secluded in the English countryside. It was a place of mercurial cliques and mysterious rules where teachers were constantly reminding their charges of how special they were. Now, years later, Kathy is a young woman. Ruth and Tommy have reentered her life, and for the first time she is beginning to look back at their shared past and understand just what it is that makes them special–and how that gift will shape the rest of their time together.

The movie did a fantastic job of catching the subtleties of Ishiguro’s novel, using a soft color scheme to give the movie an older feel (the book is set in the 80s or 90s, but with a futuristic feel). It also softens the story itself, making everything feel dreamy and separated from reality. It’s a stunning contrast against the emotional roller coaster of three children-turned-adults in a world they’re struggling to understand.


One problem I had with the movie, though, was the way they sped through a large portion of the book. The book starts with the three characters as children at boarding school, and is very slow-paced and drawn out. But in the movie they really blurred through those early scenes, and I think a lot of the backstory was lost because of that.

ishiguro-Never-Let-Me-Go-quoteBut the movie was still gorgeous, and captured a lot of the emotional intensity that Ishiguro wrote. I’d say that this isn’t a happy movie, but I never felt like it was a sad one, either. Instead, it was about hope, resignation, fate, and all of the complexity that comes with being human. And in some ways, the movie did a better job at capturing emotions.

In an interview with The Economist, the author explained why:

[Ishiguro] then explained that novels and films serve different purposes. With a novel he can get inside someone’s head and leave room for readers to use their imagination. But a film inevitably provides a fuller picture. In the book “Never Let Me Go”, the sound of a song is left open to interpretation, whereas in the film a particular song had to be chosen (a swooning jazz number by Jane Monheit).

With this movie, it’s not a case of “is the book or movie better”, but instead about how each balances the other. The movie was beautiful, and captured aspects of the book that plain text on a page can’t quite convey.

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