Delicate and sentimental, Benjamin Cleary’s Swan Song gives two-time Oscar winner Mahershala Ali a showcase performance in this adult drama. Featuring strong supporting performances and a cleanly futuristic setting, the film is an easy watch – just make sure to have the tissues ready.
It’s the near future. Ali stars as Cameron Turner, an artist happily married to his wife Poppy (Naomie Harris). Diagnosed with a terminal illness that causes seizures and eventually death, Cameron turns towards a controversial solution to stop his family’s pain: cloning.
Approached by Dr. Scott (Glenn Close), Cameron goes to a remote facility to see and meet his clone, nicknamed Jack (also Ali). As the two begin their sessions to integrate Jack into Cameron’s family, Cameron also meets Kate (Awkwafina), a woman who has already replaced herself with her clone.
As the days tick away and the tensions rise, Cameron must decide if he wants to continue with the process, or return to his family and break the bad news. And if he does, what happens to Jack?
Cameron’s illness is the ticking clock behind the scenes. His family is blissfully unaware of his condition and he has a limited amount of time to make this choice. Whichever choice he makes equates to some level of selfishness. Either he keeps his family but they lose him, or he spares them and they get to be deceived but unbothered.
Patience is not something Cameron has any time for anymore. Any struggles he had with Poppy are now accelerated. His plan was to wait it out and return to normal eventually, but that plan is no longer in the cards. At the same time, he struggles with the idea that Jack might not be up to the task of imitating his day-to-day interactions.
The near-futuristic setting plays a vital but uncomplicated role. In this setting, technology is more advanced, but just for the sake of convenience. Cars are self-driving. Contact lenses have cameras. Computer screens are expansive and robots serve you drinks on the train. But, that technology still feels rooted in reality. Dinner is still prepared by people. Poppy plays an elegant piano. Technology is used as a compliment rather than a crutch. This enhancement makes cloning feel all the more part of potential reality.
Ali balances both roles without specifically separating the two. It is explained how the two men are molecularly identical, with the exception of their awareness of their cloning. Ali allows these differences to be subtle in the best ways. Jack is more delicate as to not upset Cameron, while Cameron is brasher in his knowledge of his true reality. These minor differences distinguish the characters in delicate ways, all thanks to Ali’s captivating performance.
Harris has the most to do out of the supporting characters. Her chemistry with Ali in both flashbacks and in the present day is vital for the film’s success. Her characterization has to be this near rose-colored look at a partner and Harris is nothing but sunshine.
Close is a bit of an enigma but adds some mystery to her character. She comes across as this Dr. Frankenstein that could turn at any moment, but still has the grace and elegance of Glenn Close. As occasionally shouty as Ali can be, Close is always reserved and in control, even when she might not actually be in control. Awkwafina does a nice job in a true supporting role, showing the mental toll being replaced can take.
Overly sentimental but deftly performed, Swan Song is the feel-bad/feel-good film of the holiday season. Buoyed by a great Mahershala Ali performance, get ready for a good cry next to your loved ones and hope they aren’t clones.
Swan Song is streaming on December 17th on Apple TV+