‘SWAN SONG’ Review: Seeing Double

What would you do if you were facing your own mortality but were told that you could replace yourself with a carbon copy of yourself without anyone knowing? Benjamin Cleary seeks to explore this possibility in “Swan Song,” an existential high-concept sci-fi film that features beautiful performances including the tormented Cameron (Mahershala Ali).

Mahershala Ali and Awkwafina in “Swan Song.” Photo courtesy of Apple TV+.

Expecting any less than breathtaking from Mahershala Ali would be ridiculous. He is always captivating, and the whole arc his character of Cameron must go through is heart-wrenching. What is most impressive, however, is Ali’s ability to genuinely convey emotion through the screen. Despite being a highly-successful actor, he can play roles that feel human. Take, for example, the montages sprinkled throughout with Cameron and Poppi (Naomie Harris). It looks like two people genuinely in love, and it’s like witnessing a day in their life. The chemistry of Ali and Harris comes through the screen; perhaps due to their collaboration on “Moonlight.”

The last half hour of “Swan Song” is where the performances really soar. It doesn’t go for any sort of big sci-fi spectacle with a reveal that the real Cameron swapped places or anything of the sort. Instead, we are given some firsts and lasts for Cameron. He shares his first “drink” with his son, Hugo (Dax Ray), over edamame. He also has one last conversation with Poppi. That conversation will cause the tissues to come out, and it’s easily the most tender moment in “Swan Song.”

Mahershala Ali and Tessa Thompson in “Swan Song.” Photo courtesy of Apple TV+.

Some controversy could be found in the overall message of the film; after all, “Swan Song” could easily be interpreted as saying that Cameron could be replaced without anyone knowing. After all, the only distinguishing part of the two Camerons is a little mark on a hand. But the purpose of the film is not to commentate on how easy it would be to replace Cameron, but the sacrifice which he makes. Imagine having to let a clone of yourself fill your shoes while you watch from the sidelines until you die. That is the looming choice that sticks with Cameron throughout the film.

The most important lesson after viewing “Swan Song” is to be present. Look, it is highly unlikely that Glenn Close is going to be asking us to replace ourselves with a carbon copy, but Cameron eventually comes to grips with his situation and makes the most of it. Cameron is faced with a superhero-level crossroad because should he choose to go through with cloning himself, he cannot reveal anything to his family. It’s the same situation that you see with Spider-Man iterations; Peter Parker cannot let Aunt May or his close friends know that he is the wall-crawler — unless you are the MCU’s Spider-Man — otherwise, they would be in immediate danger. The effectiveness of “Swan Song” is in the fact that despite all of the fancy advanced technology, a decision between being selfish and doing what is best for your family can happy to anyone who views the film. You can easily place yourself into the situations of the characters. “Swan Song” is a remarkably emotional film by Benjamin Cleary that features another great Mahershala Ali performance.

Grade: B+

“Swan Song” will be available to stream on Apple TV+ on December 17.

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