Benjamin Cleary’s Swan Song is told through the eyes of two characters in a near future setting. In years approaching, it seems that our contact lenses serve as cameras allowing remote bystanders to witness the interactions of others. This comes into play with a tale of clones and impending loss.
Cameron Turner (Mahershala Ali) is facing a quandary that’s slightly less believable than his disposable camcorders. Diagnosed with a terminal illness, he struggles with how to tell his wife Poppy (Ali’s Moonlight costar Naomie Harris in another fine performance). With a young child and another on the way, an alternative solution is presented. Kindly Dr. Scott (Glenn Close) can make an exact copy of him. Cameron would face his final days at a lush and remote medical facility. Poppy and the rest of the family would have no idea.
At Dr. Scott’s locale, he meets patient #2 Kate (Awkwafina). He would be third. Away from it, Cameron is introduced to her engineered doppelgänger. That interaction helps push him to the yes column. Yet when he meets the clone called Jack (also played by Ali, naturally) – doubts are cast.
Song features plenty of flashbacks showing Cameron’s existence in healthier days. This includes his meet cute with Poppy involving a candy bar. It gets more dramatic when his eventual spouse is dealt a devastating loss.
The new technology would prevent that from happening and Cleary’s screenplay mostly succeeds in navigating the sticky wicket ethical issues presented. A two-time Oscar winner given his first sole leading role, Ali is excellent. He has the assignment of playing two characters. They may be the same person, but they have different motivations at various times. That’s not an easy feat to pull off and Ali passes the test impressively with subtle grace.
Swan Song is indeed with a tearjerker that manages to earn them with much credit to its lead(s). Cleary is not overly clear about how this enterprise of Xeroxing yourself came to be. It actually works in the picture’s favor. I’m not sure those explorations could have been more revelatory from those we’ve seen in other sci-fi tales with similar themes. Instead we are presented with Cameron’s predicament in real time and with the understandable conflicts he undergoes as his decision clock winds down before our eyes.
***1/2 (out of four)