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Review: Swan Song (2021)

Swan Song (2021)

Directed by: Benjamin Cleary

Premise: Cameron (Mahershala Ali) is married with a second child on the way. He is terminally ill but hides the diagnosis from his wife. A bioengineering company offers to make a clone of Cameron on the condition that he keep the doppelganger a secret from his family.

What Works: Swan Song is an excellent example of the possibilities of science fiction. The gene is dominated by space operas and action pictures but at its heart science fiction is about the relationship between humanity and technology. Swan Song plays out that idea and thoughtfully dramatizes the humanist aspects of the mind-body problem. A genetics company builds a clone of Cameron who is indistinguishable from the original man including his memories. The clone is intended to step into Cameron’s life without anyone knowing and allow Cameron to participate in the world and support his family. But the original Cameron will surreptitiously step away from his own life to die at the bioengineering facility. The premise of Swan Song presents personal and ethical conflicts that do not have clear answers and the filmmakers thoughtfully dramatize those ideas. There are some fantastic scenes between Cameron and his clone, both played by Mahershala Ali, as two versions of the same man debate what’s best for them and their family and confront anxieties that the original Cameron has suppressed. Swan Song combines this intellectual investigation with a nuanced domestic drama. The marriage between Cameron and his wife is likable. Mahershala Ali and Naomi Harris are a convincing couple and they give the movie a human quality that puts something emotional at stake. Swan Song is also very well designed. It takes place in the near future and the technology is advanced but credible. It’s embedded into the naturalistic settings in a way that doesn’t draw attention to itself but makes the cloning technology seem like a natural fit with the world of this story.

What Doesn’t: The premise of Swan Song requires some major leaps in credibility. Cameron suffers from a terminal illness but somehow his wife and other associates never notice. That means Cameron went through doctor appointments and medical tests, and presumably paid the associated bills, without his wife ever getting wise. The genetic research company creates a clone of Cameron at apparently no cost to him. This also seems highly unlikely. But these credibility questions are only evident upon reflection. Swan Song is dramatically and intellectually engaging enough to keep us distracted from these questions while the movie unfolds.

DVD extras: Available on Apple TV.

Bottom Line: Swan Song manages to be thoughtful and dramatically affecting. The film offers a compelling premise and follows it into challenging places. The movie is a philosophical puzzle but also a poignant drama. 

Episode: #889 (January 30, 2022)