Movie Review: “Swan Song” is a completely stoic and touching sci-fi thriller


Director: Benjamin Claire
Writers: Benjamin Claire
Stars: Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Awkwafina, Glenn Close

Synopsis: When a loving husband and father is diagnosed with a terminal illness, he is presented with a controversial alternative solution to replace himself with a carbon copy clone.

Swan song is not your typical sci-fi thriller. Set somewhere in the future, where cellphones are holograms and robots take your order, then give you delicious chocolate goodness for snacks. If you thought this invention was amazing, personally a mobile vending machine is the pinnacle of technological innovation, hold on to your hats. How about cloning your whole mind, body and soul? So your family doesn’t have to endure the pain of watching you die from a terrible disease? Go bankrupt when your health insurance reaches its limit? And maybe more importantly, don’t you have anyone to help you raise your children?

This is Cameron Turner’s (Mahershala Ali) moral dilemma. A graphic designer and father diagnosed with a terminal illness. He has a beautiful wife, Poppy (played by the radiant Naomie Harris). A lovely son (Dax Rey), with another child on the way. So good husbands and fathers do what they need to do. He meets a top secret (and what must be obscenely well funded) group that helps solve this problem. Cameron is introduced to Dr. Scott (Glenn Close). She offers a solution. They can create a full version of it. In this way, her family can avoid mental anguish and not lose financial support.

Swan song was written and directed by Benjamin Cleary. He is perhaps best known for his short film Stutterer, nominated for an Oscar for Best Live Action Short. The script is a moving, contemplative reflection of what makes life worth living. Cleary’s film also functions as a moral piece and tackles the shortage of the precious commodity of time. Cameron must struggle internally to play with the future fate of his family. He naturally worries about this carbon copy, being the patriarch of his most precious possession. He is entitled to an extract of the final product, presented to Kate (Awkwafina). A woman who is a single mother dies of cancer whose replacement now looks here with great care.

What makes Cleary’s film so stoic and charming is the device used to allow Cameron’s (and Kate’s) characters to watch their loved ones for three days interact with their brand new selves. (Patients, after the transfer is complete, stay in a seaside mountain hospital in the middle of the woods until their time is up). Ali’s character, understandably, struggles to see his replacement sleeping with his wife and playing his son’s father. Even more difficult can be those intimate moments of recollecting memories of good times and bad times.

There is such a palpable and emotional chemistry between Ali and Harris that is remarkably vibrant. It sounds like a romance which is the best kind of unconditional love. These two people saw each other for the worst. It all hinges on Ali’s performance. He is this rare actor who knows how to combine a fervent intensity and a remarkable amount of empathy with a tender and unique gaze. It is quite a spectacle to see the ethical and moral dilemma which, for him, is quite a character but more clinical than his medical team.

For those expecting a movie like Keanu Reeves’ vehicle, Replica’s, you’ll be sorely disappointed (or, in my case, thrilled). You can tell that the film lacks a sense of urgency. However, the heightened tension doesn’t bother to bow to popular favorite clichés. Swan song is a stoic, touching film about overcoming early grief and realizing that some things are bigger than ourselves.

Rating: B +

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