There has been no shortage of forward-looking sci-fi discovering the trend of technological menace instead of discovering the high-concept ways that scientific progress fills an emotional void in human life. Spike Jonze Hir and that of Michael Almereyda Marjorie Prime are great examples; this year there are two great entries in the Maria Schrader I’m your husband an dem Kogonada To Yang. Irish writer-director Benjamin Cleary, who won an Oscar in 2016 for his short film Stuttering, Mining that territory with its first function, a soul drama acted with great sensitivity by a strong cast, which unfolds to significant atmospheric effect in the soft, gloomy light of the Pacific Northwest.
Despite all that, Swan Song becomes more and more serious and dark, spending such an unreasonable amount of time over tearful contemplative glances that it is too fashionable to exercise much of a real train on the heart pieces. That’s not to blame Mahershala Ali, who delves deep into a dual-role performance as an advertising artist Cameron, whose health is rapidly declining from a terminal illness, and – spoiler alarm – the molecularly regenerated duplicate created in a lab to take his place and his family’s. To spare grief.
The bottom line
The fact that no one in Cameron’s family is involved and even the clone himself – named Jack in the fine tuning phase – will have erased all knowledge about the switch from his memory makes this literally life-changing experience an unusually solitary one. . Ali is too fine an actor to bring not rich shadows – devastating sadness, floods of anger, bitter dignity – to the painful process of letting go, handing his loved ones over to a stranger as he waits to die. But the film’s subdued intensity is too memorable, and Cameron’s agnostic too long to influence.
Cameron and his future wife, Poppy (Naomie Harris), are first seen lovingly meeting over a chocolate bar bought by an AI commuter snack vendor. The action then unfolds seamlessly to find her a few years into their marriage, with a sweet young boy (Dax Rey) and another baby on the way. Cameron kept his headaches and cramps from popping, knowing she had barely recovered from the devastating depression that followed the death of her admired twin brother, Andre (Nyashi Hatendi), in a motorcycle accident.
But Cameron quietly consulted with Dr. Scott (Glenn Close), who works with a small team of human and Android collaborators in a luxurious minimalist lab facility deep in the woods that serves as a hospice for clients to live their last days. Cameron is only the third person to participate in the still experimental procedure. In an attempt to combat his anxiety, Dr. Scott allows him to meet a successful predecessor, real estate agent Kate (Awkwafina). He first encounters her happily unconscious duplicate and then the troubled biological original, gradually disappearing on Dr. Scott’s connection.
Of course, the real test when Cameron meets Jack comes only to be distinguished by a small freckle on one side. When his memories are transferred, going all the way back to birth and even letting Cameron’s subconscious try, Jack is awakened and Cameron is threatened by the idea that this creation absorbs into the lives of his wife and son becomes. There are moments of tension as he tries to pull out of the contract, and the whole plan is almost lifted when Cameron insists on one last visit, which coincides with a health crisis. But the melancholic melodrama leads with an increasingly difficult path to an inevitable conclusion, and the philosophical and ethical questions raised by Cameron’s solo decision are left hanging.
Part of the theme with Cleary’s script and direction is the saccharine length he goes on to establish Cameron’s family as a perfect unit. Sure, Poppy closed down emotionally after losing her brother, and Cameron was a bit far away while he was privately dealing with his illness. But husband, wife and son are constantly beaming at each other with such beautiful enthusiasm that they get a little tired. We get it, the game is high for Cameron. But they are more like a family in a syrupy TV commercial than interesting three-dimensional dramatic characters. Poppy teaches music therapy to children with learning disabilities, so she is practically a saint.
That said, the luminous Harris brings attractive naturalness to the role, while Close and Awkwafina invest their characters with integrity and gentle humor, respectively. The film is certainly a classic pursuit. Some of the songs in the story feel intrusive, but Jay Wadley’s melodic score is beautiful, and Masanobu Takayanagi’s cinematography captures the serenity of the forest landscapes, as opposed to the personal unrest that is created there. The depiction of the future has some nice touches, like the driverless electric car in which Dr. Scott’s Cameron travels back and forth, and the device-free digital technology at everyone’s fingertips. It’s just too bad that all that cool science gives the sudsy feeling.