Review of ‘Swan Song’ – The Hollywood Reporter

There has been no shortage of near-future sci-fi that counteracts the trend of technological threat, instead exploring the highly conceptual ways in which scientific advances can fill an emotional void in human lives. Spike Jonze’s Her and Michael Almereydas Marjorie Prime are superior examples; this year there have been two fine contributions in Maria Schraders I’m your husband and Kogonadas After Yang. Irish writer-director Benjamin Cleary, who won an Oscar in 2016 for his short film Stuttering, it mines territory with its first feature film, a soulful drama staged with great sensitivity by a strong cast, which unfolds to significant atmospheric effect in the soft, gloomy light of the Pacific Northwest.

Despite all that, Swan song becomes more and more serious and dull, and spends so disproportionately much time lingering over weeping contemplative glances that it is too disgusting to exercise much of a genuine pull in the heart-strings. It’s not Mahershala Ali’s fault who digs deep into a dual role performance as an advertising artist Cameron, whose health is rapidly declining from a terminal illness, and – spoiler alert – the molecularly regenerated duplicate created in a laboratory to take his place and save. his family of grief.

Swan song

The bottom line

Futuristic soap.

Meeting point: AFI Fest (Red Carpet Premieres)
Release date: Friday 17 Dec.
Cast: Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Awkwafina, Glenn Close, Nyasha Hatendi, Adam Beach
Instructor-screenwriter: Benjamin Cleary

Rated R, 1 hour 54 minutes

The fact that no one in Cameron’s family is involved in the plan, and even the clone himself – named Jack in the fine-tuning phase – wants all knowledge of the contact erased from his memory, makes the literally life-changing experience an unusually lonely one. . Ali is too fine an actor not to bring rich shadows – cutting grief, waves of anger, battered dignity – to the painful process of letting go, surrendering his loved ones to a stranger while waiting to die. But the film’s subdued intensity is too uniform, and Cameron’s pain is too long-lasting to affect.

Cameron and his future wife, Poppy (Naomie Harris), are seen meeting sweets for the first time over a chocolate bar bought from an AI snack supplier of commuter trains. The plot then jumps smoothly rather than finding them a few years inside their marriage, with a sweet young son (Dax Rey) and another baby on the way. Cameron has kept her headaches and seizures from Poppy, aware of the fact that she has barely come out of the crushing depression that followed after her beloved twin brother, Andre (Nyashi Hatendis), died in a motorcycle accident.

But Cameron has quietly consulted with Dr. Scott (Glenn Close), who works with a small team of human and android collaborators at a luxurious minimalist laboratory facility deep in the woods that serves as a hospice where customers can live their last days. Cameron is only the third person to participate in the still-experimental procedure. In an attempt to allay his concerns, Dr. Scott him meeting a successful predecessor, real estate agent Kate (Awkwafina). He first encounters her happily ignorant duplicate and then the troubled biological original that slowly disappears by Dr. Scott’s building.

Of course, the real test comes when Cameron meets Jack, who can only be distinguished by a small freckle on one hand. Once his memories are transferred, going all the way back to birth and probing himself into Cameron’s subconscious, Jack is awakened and Cameron is threatened by the thought that this creation is being absorbed into the lives of his wife and son. There are moments of tension as he tries to pull out of the contract and the whole plan is almost changed as Cameron insists on one last visit that coincides with a health crisis. But the melancholy melodrama progresses with an increasingly heavy step towards an inevitable conclusion, and the philosophical and ethical questions that Cameron’s solo decision raises remain lingering.

Part of the problem with Cleary’s script and instruction is the saccharine length he goes to to establish Cameron’s family as a perfect entity. Sure, Poppy shut down emotionally after losing his brother, and Cameron has been a bit distant while privately coping with his illness. But husband, wife and son are constantly beaming at each other with such blissful enthusiasm that they get a little tired. We understand that the stakes are high for Cameron. But they are more like a family in a syrupy TV commercial than interesting three-dimensional dramatic characters. Poppy teaches music therapy to children with learning disabilities, so she’s practically a saint.

That said, the luminous Harris brings an appealing naturalness to the role, while Close and Awkwafina invest their characters with integrity and gentle humor, respectively. The film is certainly a distinguished endeavor. Some of the layered vocal tracks feel intrusive, but Jay Wadley’s melodic score is delightful, and Masanobu Takayanagi’s cinematography captures the serenity of the wooded landscapes, as opposed to the personal turmoil being worked on there. The depiction of the future has some clever details, such as the driverless electric car in which Cameron travels back and forth from Dr. Scotts, and the device-free digital technology at your fingertips. It’s just a shame that all that cool science gives way to foamy mood.

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