There is low-brow science-fiction ("Starship Troopers" and similar) and then there is more intellectually-challenging high-brow science-fiction (the recent "Ex Machina" or "Possessor" comes to mind).
"Swan Song" is a fantastic, thoughtful, emotionally-charged drama dealing with cloning, where it asks a simple question: If you could spare your loved ones from the hurt of ever losing you or experiencing any grief, what would you be willing to sacrifice?
It's the not-so-distant future, where a new technology has emerged. It's not yet mainstream, and only a select few have even had the chance to even experience it. A genetic scientist, Dr. Scott (Glenn Close) and her assistant, Dalton (Adam Beach) claim to have the ability to clone a human being...not just duplicate them per se, but in a way that can modify the genetics to escape death itself.
Put in other words, let's say you are diagnosed with terminal cancer. Unbeknownst to your wife, kids and loved ones, you would go see Dr. Scott, who would clone a version of you that does NOT have cancer, upload all of your memories and thoughts to this new clone, and the clone would slip in and replace you with your family never knowing. The "real you" would then peacefully live out the rest of your life in solitude, all alone. This "ultimate sacrifice" would spare your family, and is perhaps one of the most selfless decisions one could ever make.
Cameron (Mahershala Ali) faces this predicament. His wife Poppy (Naomie Harris) is his everything and he can't imagine breaking her heart, especially with a little one one the way. While being sequestered, Clarence meets Kate (Awkwafina), the only other person that he knows that is currently "living out her life" with her clone "out there" in the real world. They share a bond that is fully unique as two souls going through something that only they can possibly understand.
Like the best of science-fiction, "Swan Song" reveals enough about its rules and its environment to have it make sense for its story, and doesn't try to "over-explain" anything. As Cameron goes through the cloning process, he is confronted with a whole new array of obstacles that he didn't quite foresee...imagine, for example, the first encounter your "clone" has with your wife, where it's proven that she can't tell the difference. Is that jealousy you're feeling, about...you? If we are not unique then what are we? And if we're so easily replaceable then what does life matter in the first place?
These are heavy questions, handled with care by first-time director Benjamin Cleary. Mahershala Ali, already with two Oscars under his belt (for 2017's "Moonlight" and 2019's "Green Book") is deserved of the same level of praise. He plays Clarence and the clone of Clarence, and from the moment that the clone is "born" they are different people with different objectives. The nuances of Ali's performance are astounding.
"Swan Song" takes some clichéd sci-fi tropes (cloning, secret scientists messing with genetics, etc.) and approaches it from a fresh angle, full of humanity, heart and true curiosity. It sticks in your head, with its introspective melodies lingering far beyond the film's final credits.
Genre: Science-Fiction, Drama.
Run Time: 1 hour 52 minutes.
Starring: Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Awkwafina, Glenn Close, Adam Beach.
Written and Directed by Benjamin Cleary (feature-film directorial debut).
"Swan Song" is on Apple TV+ on Friday, December 17th, 2021.
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