Death is the natural order of things, but what if you could prevent your family and friends from feeling sadness and grief over your death. Would you take this opportunity? If you’ve ever lost one, you can identify with the moral battle at the heart of writer / director Benjamin Cleary’s Apple TV + sci-fi drama Swan Song Starring two-time Oscar winner Mahershala Ali and Oscar nominated Naomie Harris. This human and established script contains subtle sci-fi touches that do not distract and enhance a strong story that lifts all the heavy lifts so that the responsibility of the talent is taken away so that they can focus on empathetic and compelling performances.
Cameron (Mahershala Ali) dies and has not much left to live. Because his wife Poppy (Naomie Harris) and his child do not know about his diagnosis, he chooses to protect her from the grief she expects in his death. His solution is to seek out Dr. Scott (Glen Close) in their clone / hospice facility in hopes of replacing himself while he waits to die. Dr. Scott’s science is to create a replica of the patient, to equip them with memories of the original and all bodily identifiers and none of the diseases.
When the procedure is complete, Jax, Cameron’s clone, comes to life as a separate living, breathing entity. Cameron is not sure he is ready to give up his family’s responsibility to a clone, so he has to make a decision: send Jax into the world as a new Cameron or risk going back home where his family could see him suffer . Whatever he decides, he must do it quickly and be content to possibly take his secret to the grave.
Swan Song goes through Cameron through the five stages of grief (embarrassment, anger, negotiation, depression, acceptance) to lose himself to a new version that separates him from a world he has cultivated for himself. First, he refuses because Poppy admits that he is quiet and refuses to talk to his wife about his illness. Then once Cameron sees Jack’s success in his place, he gets angry. The character then begins to deal with his clone slowly by watching him engage with his family, but this brings a wave of depression. He wants and needs physical closure and worries that it will not happen, but when it’s time to accept his fate, ask yourself if he’s satisfied with how things went.
There was a stream of lo-fi sci-fi cinema. The futuristic setting is not central to the story, does not serve as a distraction, and is established enough to be audience related. There is nothing meaningful about Swan Song. Everyone is watching this movie trying to make the world a better place, and it’s good to see that on screen.
There is also a warm hue that captivates Masanobu Takayanagi’s cinematography. The colors disappear between a sunrise or sunset, which feels almost heavenly. This makes sense for a clone birth control facility that also acts as a hospice on death row. It’s hard to say if this was intentional or random, but it works in both capacities. Above all, this framework works to highlight the electrical performance of Mahershala Ali.
Ali inspires passion and empathy that bursts from the screen into your soul. He is an actor whose memorable performances leave an impact that lasts long after the film is over. That’s why the actor won two Academy Awards and is considered one of the best actors working in Hollywood today. In Swan Song, he has a great chemistry with himself, but this is assisted by Cleary’s management. The actor can relax and just act because they are on a solid narrative basis.
Would cloning make death easier? What would you do if you knew your family would be fine after you left? Spectators automatically put themselves in Cameron’s shoes and identify with his internal struggle, and everyone will have a different answer and solution to what he is going through. This is what makes Swan Song such a strong moving story. Is that it creates a conversation about life, death and everything in between. So what would be your swan song? Protect those you love without their knowledge, or let them make their own decision?