Director: Benjamin Cleary
Writer: Benjamin Cleary
Starring: Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Awkwafina, Glenn Close, Adam Beach,
Swan Song is set in an almost utopian future where everything is streamlined and sleek. The cars are self-driving, everyone has high-end tech, that means their phone is essentially a part of them. And science has moved to a point where cloning is possible. A future that doesn’t feel too far removed from where we are now, and it’s refreshing for this to be shown in a more positive light.
Cameron Turner (Mahershala Ali) is struggling with a terminal illness that he is keeping hidden from his wife, Poppy (Naomie Harris). He doesn’t have long left to live, struggling with seizures, and passing out. To make sure that Poppy, their son and unborn child, aren’t left grieving Cameron has decided to take part in an experimental procedure, where he is cloned, and his memories are replicated into the clone version of himself. When he becomes too ill to continue normal life, the clone will take over his day-to-day life and on one will know any differently.
The film starts with Cameron and Poppy meeting on a train, their meet-cute revolving around eating the same bar of chocolate. Cameron thinks it’s his because he bought one, so when Poppy starts eating an identical bar, he gets territorial and starts eating the other end of it, both snapping pieces off. Once Poppy leaves, he releases that his bar was in his pocket and he was eating from Poppy’s. It’s a sweet and affectionate scene, that is immediately contrasted with a scene showing Cameron struggling with his illness. Writer and director Benjamin Cleary perfectly toys with your emotions, making you care about Cameron and Poppy before instantly snatching away their happy ending like it was the chocolate bar from the first scene.
It hits hard straight away. That downbeat and almost hopeless tone isn’t forgotten for the rest of the film. It’s a really slow-paced drama that while at points feels like it may take a genre change, doesn’t and stays true to its premise. This isn’t a horror where Poppy finds out that her husband has been replaced, it’s a drama that’s about someone dealing with how his family will continue once he’s gone. It’s feels fresh and original because it doesn’t fall into the expected plot trappings.
Mahershala Ali gives a really strong performance as both Cameron and his clone, who is called Jack to avoid confusion. He’s charming and instantly likable from the first scene and you want him and Poppy to have a happy ending from their first meeting. Equally good is Naomi Harris as Poppy, who is struggling with the loss of her twin brother. They both work really well together and are completely believable as a couple.
The biggest issue with the premise of Swan Song is the morals of Poppy not being told that she is living with a clone of her husband. It feels strange in the times we are living in that she doesn’t find out, because you know she wouldn’t be okay with it if she found out. It’s a little creepy and gets worse the more you think about it. The film skirts around it by having a scene, which is references later, that Poppy would happily have a clone of her mother as long as she couldn’t tell the difference, but that’s a flimsy excuse for not tackling her consent in the situation and everything that happens once the credits’ role. There are a few scenes later on in the film that really feel awkward, knowing she will never find out that she’s not with her actual husband.
Beyond the grey-area in the morals Swan Song is at times a really touching and moving film. It’s probably a little too long, and the pacing is quite slow, but it does connect on an emotional level and Mahershala Ali is incredible in it. If you have Apple TV and like a more slow-burn drama, then this is one for you. It’s engaging and has a lot of heart.
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