Swan Song (2021)
Swan Song (2021)

Genre: Sci-Fi Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 52 min.

Release Date: December 17th, 2021 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Benjamin Cleary Actors: Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Glenn Close, Awkwafina, Adam Beach, Lee Shorten, Nyasha Hatendi




n the not-so-distant future, artist Cameron Turner (Mahershala Ali) travels on a train – complete with a fully automated robot waiter, who speaks, takes payment, and dispenses food orders – as a female passenger takes a seat across from him, inadvertently sharing a candy bar on the table. Or so he thinks, as he later realizes that the chocolate was in fact hers, as his purchase was in his pocket the whole time. It’s actually a flashback to an earlier event, as Cameron dwells on past memories; the woman is Poppy (Naomie Harris), his wife.

The story proper involves Cameron’s accelerated physical deterioration; he’s dying. With the help of the cutting-edge Arra Labs, run by Dr. Jo Scott (Glenn Close), head technician Dalton (Adam Beach), and only one other assistant (Lee Shorten) – along with copious amounts of computer-governed operations – Cameron has a rare opportunity to spare his family the heartbreak of his death. Without their knowledge, he can replace himself with an indistinguishable duplicate, a clone of sorts. But can he come to terms with what a replacement might mean, especially because his wife and young son can never know? “You can’t copy a human being!”

“How many others are out there?” Although snippets of super advanced technology appear in various places, not everything is given fitting speculative attention. For example, not all light switches have advanced, nor have entryways and numerous appliances. Clothing is moderately different; cars are self-driving and resemble spacecrafts; and contact lenses provide interconnectivity to phones, apps, and other systems, but the general surroundings of these characters are only lightly futuristic. What is far more outrageous is the artificial intelligence and cloning capabilities, designed around DNA modification to produce disease-free replicas. Ethical concerns abound, of course, but as Dr. Scott insists, if no one knows – not friends, family, or the doppelgänger itself – where’s the lie?

Like a more realistic, grounded take on “The 6th Day” or “Criminal” (and, to a lesser extent, “Total Recall,” “Gemini Man,” and even “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”), “Swan Song” focuses more on the drama and cognitive concerns of cloning and brain-duplication (conscious and subconscious mirroring) than action, adventure, and the out-of-this-world nature of the science-fiction components. The love story, too, is more sensible and believable, while the emotional moments possess an obvious potency. Unfortunately, the use of such definitive sci-fi concepts makes it difficult to assess the entirety of the picture as a candid examination of moral predicaments; humankind is still incredibly far away from this type of solution to mortality.

Nevertheless, the notions of identity and individuality are fascinating. What makes someone unique if their mind is identical? And can someone come to terms with being replaced, not just partially but wholly? Can anyone combat the inherent nature of selfishness and ego? The film even includes a twin relative, for an extra infusion of complicated duality. The premise doesn’t always flow smoothly, however, especially when Cameron interacts with his double – a problematic but possibly necessary meeting for the sake of convincing that the technology is passable. Still, some of the surprises toward the finale are nearly laughable in their coincidental extremes, alongside various situations that aren’t intended to be funny at all (such as a dog’s unexpected reaction and the potential for eavesdropping on intimate activities). It’s all presented with the utmost seriousness, but the sci-fi upgrades can’t always avoid humorous skepticism. And even more unbecoming is the sudden shift in mood at the conclusion, exhibiting notes of a thriller, threatening to spoil the sporadically engaging psychological drama before it. At least the parting scenes are a welcome return to down-to-earth poignancy.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10