Written by: Benjamin Cleary
Starring: Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Awkwafina, Glenn Close
Losing the people you love can be one of the most unbearable pains we experience as humans, as it’s one we can never fully recover from because that individual is never coming back no matter what we do. Individuals with terminal diseases live the rest of their shortened lives knowing this and ostensibly cannot do anything about it, except for a concept introduced in Swan Song. A film looking at the philosophical arguments for and against a fairly radical procedure to create some solace.
Suffering from a terminal illness, Cameron (Mahershala Ali) does not want to leave his wife and children with the pain of his loss so he undergoes a procedure that would have him cloned and eventually replaced without the knowledge of his loved ones. With the date of the switch coming closer, he begins to have doubts about whether or not he wants to proceed with the process.
Long live science-fiction and its ability to posit such fascinating ideas for a larger discussion, and Swan Song very much falls into this lane with the premise it sets up for its characters and the audiences to think through. It allows for endless conversation about the morality of its utilization on top of the emotional stakes of what this entire process would look like. All perspectives and discussions would have their own merit because these decisions have an intensely personal nature due to how they view the relationships they have with the people around them. The reasons stated in the film for why the characters go through with these decisions all have the same tune, they want their family members to be spared the pain of loss. A way to take something possibly detrimental out of their lived experience. Cameron then would live out the rest of his days in this facility never to speak to his family ever again. The reasons he would not want to go through with this are very understandable, which leaves this film as the process of him coming to a conclusion as to how he wants to proceed.
Much of the film falls into the conversation between Cameron with other individuals going through the same process as him and then with his clone. As part of the replacement process, he needs to have conversations with the clone, which will ensure the transition will be as seamless as possible. Through these conversations, you can sense the hesitation and the fear that comes with the decision being made by Cameron, and where this film hits its peak comes from the way Mahershala Ali delivers it all.
For an actor who has won two Academy Awards, it’s unfathomable to believe his turn in this role serves as his first lead performance. I know, shocking to believe but it stands true in the fairly short filmography Ali has carefully built thus far. He certainly did not waste the opportunity, as he portrays Cameron and the clone, he embodies both the fear in the eyes of the human and the inquisitiveness of the copy in a fascinating way. He brings a level of humanity that is integral to the film’s success as we need to deeply care about this man’s internal struggle for this entire project to work. He certainly succeeds here and becomes a major reason why this film thrives overall.
Tonally, the mood of this feature is incredibly somber, and with good reason. Not much in this film provides an opportunity to cheer because of the subject matter, but this film still manages to sneak some laughs in there, mainly from Awkwafina and her minuscule time in the film. What does not get lost in the somber mood is the raw humanity on display with the heightened emotions that come with this experience. A level of serene calmness exists throughout the runtime barring any of the incidents where Cameron gets rightfully overwhelmed by the entire process. Plenty of tears get shed and the way Cameron reckons with it all really runs the chance of something welling up in your throat. This all runs with the thoughtful nature of this film as it handles this very delicate situation with a level of love necessary and this gets seen as the end of the film approaches with some real tear-inducing moments.
Thoughtful in its ideas and proficiently executed as a feature, Swan Song presents a different portrait of how to love the ones around you. One of the larger sacrifices an individual could make for the sake of their loved ones. Incredibly touching in several moments, even when the pacing can be a bit laborious. This feature has so much to appreciate.