Swan Song

Swan Song” boldly takes an age-old, mortal question, sets it in the near future, and asks what we would do if we were faced with the same set of circumstances. Mahershala Ali’s riveting performance supports director Benjamin Cleary’s story, finding a different vantage point from which to tell an oft-told tale.

Cameron Turner is a successful advertising executive with a young family; his devoted wife Poppy (Naomie Harris) isn’t necessarily at his side, her own life in turmoil. Their love for each other is what brings them together and drives them apart. The intense futuristic look and sense of isolation are at the heart of the family, and the story as Cameron discovers that he is terminally ill. In these next steps, Cleary makes “Swan Song” his own.

The character turns to a controversial solution to his problem: cloning himself. Cameron faces the question about whether to take that step or go gently into that good night (I seem to be repeating Thomas). The drifting nature of his relationship with his family has Cameron isolated into making decisions while reflecting on the consequences. Ali, who first came to attention in Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight,” channels a similar kind of Zen posture; the interpersonal actor reacts from within, and his powerfully quiet reflectiveness is displayed as the character thinks through the implications of the procedure.

The brightly lit environment surrounding Cameron is a stark contrast to the character’s motivations. There is a hope that Cameron will find a way, and it only serves to enhance the moral ambiguity of the life-altering decision in front of him. However, the home front is where Cameron struggles.

Poppy, played by Naomie Harris, who coincidentally is having a hell of a year in her own right, has had struggles of her own, mental darkness that eclipses Cameron’s in some ways and pales in comparison in others. Harris is the story’s emotional center as she is as isolated as Cameron. Yet, she is capable of emoting more than Cameron. Ali and Harris make for a powerful couple when they are on camera together.

That power is not enough to defray Cameron’s decision. I would add “life-altering” to that statement, but the character being faced with imminent death should be enough. Cleary adds Cameron’s anguish, and Ali conveys it as the clock runs down. The non-committal Dr. Scott, played by Glenn Close, is present to aid him in his decision. Her neutrality serves as a lifeline between immortality for Cameron and his relationship with Poppy – a future he cannot see. Close plays “ice” to a ‘T,’ but with compassion. As Cameron moves throughout the story, her advice and the justification for the process are warranted.

As if the implications of the decision weren’t enough, Awkwafina finds her dramatic side as Kate, another patient who has already undergone the procedure. We don’t see her clone, but we know what lies in Cameron’s future. When they’re on screen together, each actor reflects and emotes in a genuflect way and “Swan Song”s power: that we have control over our destinies, even if a decision as important as this one is all that remains.

“Swan Song” is as contemplative as the stories told before it. It yearns to be a “Moon,” or a “Gattaca,” as its environment mirrors “I, Robot” and “Ex Machina.” Mahershala Ali’s performance is what elevates the story to their level, but no one movie can take the place of those films, begging the question of what it is to face your existence and what your decision would be at life’s end. We aren’t born, predetermined to know the next life; however, “Swan Song” leaves us with an indelible impression, thinking about the choice and the choices that led us to this point.