Without intending this, last weekend we ended up watching two movies on the cheery subject of human mortality, as depicted through the prism of young adults facing a death sentence:
Never Let Me Go, 2010, starring Keira Knightly, Andrew Garfield, and Carey Mulligan
One Week, 2008, starring Joshua Jackson and Liane Balaban
Based on a novel, the premise of Never Let Me Go, a British film, is an alternate world where cloning technology was perfected in the 1950s, leading to a world where clones are created for the purpose of providing life-extending organ donations to everyone else. We first meet the donors as children in a British boarding school, then move ahead to their lives as young adults. The focus is on three characters who form a love triangle.
One Week is a Canadian movie in which the protagonist receives a terrible cancer diagnosis in the first scene. Instead of immediately going into treatment, as recommended, he decides to take a motorcycle road trip across Canada first, to take stock of his life.
As you might imagine, Never Let Me Go is sad. But at least, blessedly, you’re never made to wallow in the sadness. It’s there, it’s built into the story, but it’s all underplayed, somewhat interior, all very British. It never brought me to tears. It’s very well-made, with a lot of attention to the look, the dimmed color palette. It moves along at an appropriate pace. Both the child actors and the young adults in the film are quite good in their roles.
Most striking about how the story plays out if how accepting all the clones are of their fate. It never seems to occur to anyone to run and try to escape the transplant surgeries that will ultimately kill them. If they had, that would have been a whole other movie. (I think it was called Logan’s Run.) If still wondering why this story was told in these terms, watch the extras! It is explained there.
I was going to say that One Week is therefore a contrast, as it’s all about escape, but that’s not really true. Lead character Ben knows perfectly well he can’t outran cancer. He’s just looking for a slice of time before he becomes a patient.
Everything in this movie takes place with Ben basically still feeling well, so it’s much less sad than Never Let Me Go. The whole story is approached with wry humour. It’s also a real love letter to Canada, as you see a lot of the iconic and beautiful Canadian sites Ben travels through, including the Big Nickel, the Terry Fox statue, the rolling prairies, the gorgeous beaches of Tofino.
The script does not have the fullness and depth of Never Let Me Go‘s, but I still found it interesting to participate in Ben’s examinations of the choices that had led him to a job he isn’t passionate about, and into an engagement with a lovely woman who nevertheless may not be The One. And of course, leads you to wonder why you might do if you had a week before entering into likely hopeless cancer treatment.
Jean’s take? He found Never Let Me Go really sad, and overall thinks I should rent more comedies. As for One Week, he was strongly critical of Ben’s treatment of his fiancee, but did enjoy the travel through Canada aspect. I think his attention reasonably well, for another movie that is more about self-realization than plot twists.