Note: There were two movies released in 2021 both with the title Swan Song. This refers to the one starring Mahershala Ali available on AppleTV+, not the movie starring Udo Kier that is currently streaming on Hulu.
What if your loved ones and friends didn’t have to grieve your loss? Even though you died, a clone could be made with your same memories, talents and feelings. And the best part would be the clone wouldn’t know it’s a clone, so it would be like you never died to those around you.
This is the premise behind Swan Song, a science-fiction drama starring Mahershala Ali as Cameron Turner, a graphics arts designer who is diagnosed with terminal cancer. He doesn’t tell his wife, Poppy (Naomi Harris) as she is still grieving the loss of her twin brother, Andre (Nyasha Hatendi) in a motorcycle accident. Poppy is also pregnant with their second child.
It’s a lot for a man to worry about knowing he’ll probably never live to see his child born. And Poppy has been depressed, as expected, since the fatal accident. So, he finds out about a radical idea Dr. Jo Scott (Glenn Close) has to clone people. With the help of her assistant, Dalton (Adam Beach), they can make a replacement look and even act like the original.
But there’s a catch? Cameron can’t tell anyone of his illness beyond his oncologist who is a colleague of Dr. Scott. And this presents a dilemma Cameron must deal with. The movie is written and directed by Benjamin Cleary as his first-feature film and that’s both a good thing and a bad thing. Clearly won an Oscar for his short movie Stutterer. And this movie is rough around the edges. It’s mostly too long. It’s about 112 minutes long and about 10 of those are end credits. Still it’s too much.
Cleary does a good job at presenting a world in the near future with advanced technology that seems plausible and more or less possible in the next 30 years. The performances by Ali and Harris are some of the highlights. The way he films the two meeting almost by a random mistake on a commuter train is so brilliant but so simple you’re almost certain it happened in real life from a story Cleary heard and he incorporated it here.
There’s even a good performance out of Awkwafinna as Kate, who is a clone Cameron visits and then meets her original. It’s really the only good parts of the scenes as the place where Dr. Scott operates seems to follow the same tropes seen in other sci-fi movies where it’s a very secluded wooded place. Part of the rub is the terminally ill live out the rest of their days at this clinic. There’s too many scenes at this location that aren’t handled the best and become repetitious.
But they do get to watch how their clones interact with their family and friends for a while until their memories are wiped clean. And this leads to another trope that I wished Cleary left out. Cameron has bad dreams of his clone turning malevolent. This part isn’t really needed.
Cloning has been used a lot in recent sci-fi movies from the last 25 years or so but it’s mostly been used as a twist. Here, Cleary does examine the moral and ethical issues better than in The 6th Day. It does have its moments and the performance of Ali, Harris and even Awkwafina keep the movie going. I was glad that Cleary didn’t turn Scott into the mad scientist or the doctor struggling with their own ethics, but Scott really isn’t given much to do aside from argue with Cameron when he second-guesses.
What do you think? Please comment.