MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Of all of the film genres today, probably the most challenging of them all is thoughtful science fiction. New scientific discoveries and technologies quickly outpace our imagination and everyday life challenges (including viruses and meteorological anomalies) seem at times beyond belief.
That is why I really admire Swan Song – which takes place just a few years into the future – in its attempt to deal with grief and loss in a creative way. The film begins with a brief flashback that shows how Cameron (Ali) first met Poppy (Harris) (the woman he would later marry) on a commuter train. We then move ahead in time about nine years to observe Cameron in a meeting with Dr. Scott (Glenn Close), a research scientist, discussing his participation in an experimental cloning procedure.
Cameron is slowly dying from a terminal illness, which he has not shared with his family. Dr. Scott and her team have successfully duplicated Cameron’s body and are able to transfer all of his memories into his clone (who is casually named “Jack”, also played by Ali). It would be possible to do a clean swap and replace Cameron with his body double and thereby extend his life beyond the ravages of illness. But if the experiment is going to work it must happen without his family’s knowledge.
Cameron and Poppy are the parents of a cute little boy (Dax Rey), with another on the way. It would seem like these smart and attractive people would have a good life ahead of them, if it weren’t for mortality.
The film wants us to sympathize with Cameron and appreciate his struggle to do the right thing, but I found myself unable to engage with the movie’s basic concept. Why would anyone not share information about a devastating illness with their partner? Why would anyone enter into such a deceptive experiment? In spite of the movie’s valiant attempts to empathize with Cameron, the person who is underserved in the script is Poppy. Awkwafina also shows up for a couple of brief scenes as another of Dr. Scott’s patients, but only as a foil to Cameron.
Swan Song is a slow-paced film, so thoughtful viewers are given a lot of time to ponder its plot holes and problems.
One final note: Mahershala Ali is a great actor and does fine work here, but to really appreciate what he and his co-star Naomi Harris are capable of doing, I highly recommend revisiting their Oscar- nominated roles in 2016’s Moonlight.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Three halos: Provocative themes about identity and grief are underserved by a weak script.
One pitchfork: Pervasive casual swearing.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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