Andrea’s film review – Swan Song

Swan Song ⭐️⭐️⭐️ Review by Andrea Carnevali

In the near future, a terminally ill man explores a heart wrenching, emotionally complex solution to save his wife and son from grief by duplicating himself without them knowing. Available to watch on Apple +

Get some tissues out for this one, because Swan Song is a real tearjerker of a movie. I’ve just finished watching it and I can barely see in focus through my wet soaking eyes… So please forgive the odd typo here and there.

In a way this feels a lot like an extended episode of Black Mirror, and like many of those episodes, whilst on the surface it can be considered a science fiction piece, it’s clear that director Benjamin Cleary is less interested in what the future might look like – though there are some tantalising details here and there scattered throughout the film – but more in using that genre as a framing device to reflect on life, death, family, scarify and have to grapple with the idea of a clone replacing you and carrying on your life.

Cue tears and even more tears.

Set in the not too distant future, the film tells the story of Cameron (Mahershala Ali), a loving husband and father who is terminally ill with not much time to live, but he’s kept his condition hidden from his wife Poppy (Naomi Watts) for fear of breaking her heart.

Enter Glen Close, a doctor who set up a facility in the middle of nowhere (strangely resembling the house from another minimal cerebral sci-fi, Ex Machina), who presents him with the alternative solution of cloning himself, transferring all his memories and his personality and subconscious and let the new close replace him.

One shouldn’t really look into the set up and the dynamics of the plot too closely though, because the moment you do, it could all fall apart. The director conveniently avoids tackling certain big (and actually rather interesting) questions about the ethics of what they are doing, the legality and what it could mean for the future (does it mean that the doctor is a God who created immortality?).

But also there are some big plot holes too: questions like “why allow the two to meet each other and spend time together?”. Wouldn’t it just be easier to send the clone without the two of them ever coming across each other? Possibly yes, but that would have divested the film from some of the most beautiful and powerful moments too.

Mahershala Ali’s brilliant, nuanced and multi-layered performance succeeds in creating two identical, yet different characters and by the end we can’t help but loving them both.

The whole film mostly plays out (rather slowly and quietly one may argue) on his very expressive face, while the fragmented (and yet skilful) editing carries the audience through a series flashbacks weaving memories and key moments which will eventually inform the decision he has to make.

He is the heart and sound of this film. The rest of the cast includes a very good Naomi Watts, a very under-utilised Awkwafina and Glen Close, who is probably slightly miscast, as you always expect her, if not to pull out a rabbit from a boiling pot, to do something schemy or at least not quite right, and that’s really not the intent of the film.

Overall, Swan song is very gentle film, probably a bit too gentle to make a real long lasting impact. But even though I would have loved a little bit more edge, darkness (and some more changes in its pace) it is still a powerful and very moving film, with a towering performance at its centre which deserves to be noticed … but unfortunately very few will, because it’s on Apple+

Andrea Carnevali is a Bafta winning film maker who lives in Chiswick.

Swan Song is available to watch on Apple +

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