Swan Song Review: Mahershala Ali’s Touching Performance Explores an Ethical Dilemma

Mahershala Ali as Cameron (Left) and his clone Jack (Right)

*Spoiler Alert*

When I saw the trailer for Swan Song, an Amazon series called Solos (starring Anthony Mackie) came to mind, specifically an episode entitled Tom. A 2 minute and 35 seconds-long glimpse at Mahershala Ali’s performance coupled with actress Naomie Harris‘ charisma led me to believe this sci-fi film would be nothing short of exceptional. Can I tell you I was not disappointed?! Performances by Ali and Harris kept me fully interested in this slow-paced film. I like Anthony Mackie (Falcon and all), but Mahershala Ali did a helluva job. 

Saying So Much Without Saying Anything 

I was impressed early on with a scene between Ali (Cameron) and Harris (Poppy) when their characters first met on the train. It’s actually my favorite part of the film! As Poppy sits in front of Cameron, while on the phone and snaps off a piece of chocolate on the table between the two, Cameron assumes it’s the chocolate he ordered moments before Poppy came onto the train. He slides the chocolate towards himself, breaks off a piece, and eats it, all the while smirking at Poppy. The two take turns eating the chocolate while Poppy is still on the phone. They’re clearly intrigued by each other. The chemistry here was uncanny, and so much was said without even an exchange of words between the two. After Poppy gets off at her stop, Cameron realizes he was eating her chocolate as he discovers his own chocolate bar was still in his jacket pocket.  

Mahershala Ali (Cameron) and Naomie Harris (Poppy)

Ali and Harris’ Performances 

Ali does a fantastic job portraying both Cameron and his clone, Jack. His reaction to first seeing the clone was completely expressed through his eyes. His reaction to seeing his clone for the first time was incredbly believable, and his clone’s reaction to its initial awakening seems as accurate as could be. Ali’s eyes alone provide all the emotion needed to perfectly portray what is required in certain scenes. 

Naomie Harris is charismatic, as usual. Her love as a mother is believable and feels genuinely organic. The scenes where she is heartbroken after her twin brother’s death creates a need for Cameron to be ambivalent about deciding to be a clone or not. I couldn’t blame Cameron; watching Poppy shut down and become distant was so concerning. In addition to Poppy being pregnant, Cameron is also concerned about his son not having a father while growing up and how that would affect him. 

Cameron meets Kate (Awkwafina), a woman on her deathbed who decides to undergo the transition of a clone taking over her life. At times, it seems Kate is ok with the decision and even displays a bit of humor as her lifeforce slowly deminishes, but I could tell from her conversations with Cameron (after he met her clone and daughter) that she misses her life. Although the island where the transition ensues seems fitted with the appropriate resources and comfortability, it is still somewhat isolated. No one knows you are there besides Dr. Scott and her two colleagues. 

What would be my concern if I was in Cameron’s shoes? Well, that scenario comes up when Cameron witnesses his clone interact with Poppy via facetime right in front of him. It was so eerie to see the connection and love with his wife replicated without Poppy even noticing a difference.

I like how the writer gives Cameron another variable: if Cameron decides to abort the program and tell his wife he is dying, the clone would be terminated. The clone, Jack, made a compelling case to live, which threw me off. But hey, Ali was playing this role, so why wouldn’t there be depth to the clone?

The film ends with Cameron escaping the island after passing out from a seizure as he went to spend his last hours with his family before the clone takes over. The clone allows Cameron to see (through his eyes) Poppy tell him she’ll love him always, an emotionally challenging but meaningful way to end the film. At this point I had a little eye sweat, then again, it may have been allergies. 

Mahershala Ali and Awkwafina (Kate)

Presentation

One of the first things I learned in filmmaking is to show the audience and not tell; this film does just that. It shows the audience that the movie is set in the future with the use of advanced technology. From the coffee-serving A.I. to the self-driving cars, this film has some pretty cool technology that I wish I had access to. The solid colors used in different scenes creates significant effects and mood. Swan Song uses a non-linear structure to explore Cameron’s history and transmit his memories and thoughts into his clone, which is kind of cool and not too overwhelming. I didn’t find myself getting lost as I have with similar movies in the past. 

Who Looked at My Playlist? 

The soundtrack of the film was on point! It uses songs from artists I am a fan of, Frank Ocean and Moses Sumney. The pieces used were well placed throughout the film and added to the scenes’ moods. For example, when Frank Ocean’s reimagining of Moon River played during Cameron’s flashbacks of his life with his wife. It pulled on my heartstrings, so I took a break and watched a couple of Tony Baker videos. Shoutout to the music supervisor of this film. It felt like they hacked into one of my playlists! 

In another cool scene, Cameron goes through his routine and watches his son sleep while Moses Sumney plays in the background. As he takes out his earbuds, the music lowers from the soundtrack to real-time, making me feel like I was a part of the scene. 

Overall, Swan Song is a great film that challenges the audience to think about what they would do in the lead character’s position. This actually would be a great film to watch with a group of friends or family, because it would serve as a fascinating conversation piece. This film is worth watching and I recommend putting it on your watchlist. 

Swan Song will be released and streamed on Apple plus on December 17th.

About Dapper Dr Feel

Felipe Patterson aka Dapper Dr. Feel, #BlackLoveConvo & Entertainment | @dapperdrfel Dapper Dr. Feel is a burgeoning Southern gentleman looking for love in all the wrong places while applying to medical school. He volunteers with autism awareness projects and hopes to mentor other young Black men.

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