Clone stories are a dime a dozen. Whether it’s an antagonistic doppelganger or a rival-become-friend, we’ve practically seen it all. But Swan Song, while not quite nailing the execution, tries something different.
Cameron Turner (Mahershala Ali) is about to die of a terminal illness and makes the decision to copy his consciousness into a clone so that his family can go on living with his “replacement.” In the meantime, he’s tasked with reliving his memories at a facility in secret, while his clone prepares to enter society.
This isn’t your typical “far future, technology is scary” flick. Swan Song has a very interesting hook in that it’s not strictly meant to be a thriller, like so many other similar stories. Instead, we get to see the entire tale unfolding before Cameron’s eyes, bolstered by a typically nuanced turn from Mahershala Ali. Cameron is able to showcase all the facets of humanity in a swift under-two-hour runtime.
Everything from a technological standpoint is presented as pragmatic and neutral. Instead, we get a rollercoaster drama with Cameron reliving his life as he attempts to transfer memories into his clone and copes with death. It takes on so many different tones and themes, sometimes with very quick cuts that aren’t always the right choice, but the emotional throughput is there.
“Swan Song has a very interesting hook in that it’s not strictly meant to be a thriller, like so many other similar stories.”
Glenn Close, who runs the cloning centre, bounces off Ali very well as someone who always maintains a sense of urgency, without overacting. The same goes for Awkwafina, someone who lives at the facility and is in the same situation as Cameron: you can see the pain in her performance.
Nothing is overstated or done bombastically until the final act, when it starts to accumulate tropes like trophies (then thankfully stops short). When Close is mediating conversations between the two Camerons, there is tension there, but it’s never over the top. It also helps immensely that the interactions between Cameron and his alter ego (both with Ali) aren’t hokey or overdone to the point where they become a gimmick. Cameron is at odds with himself, which plays out in a futuristic fashion, and in a relatable way.
When I first heard the premise for Swan Song, I was reticent. It’s so easy to screw this up, and without someone as versatile as Mahershala Ali, Swan Song probably would have been another streaming fodder flick to add to the pile. Instead, everyone rises to the occasion to create a heartfelt, melancholy, and intimate story that’s occasionally meandering, but still comes together in the end.