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‘Swan Song’: Dying Mahershala Ali debates whether to send in the clone

Emotional drama imagines a future when a duplicate can continue your life after you can’t.

Cameron (Mahershala Ali), who is terminally ill, meets the clone made to replace him in “Swan Song.”
Apple TV+

Seems like only yesterday but it was actually seven months ago when an episode of the Amazon Studios series “Solos” starred Anthony Mackie in a dual role as a dying family man who strikes up an uneasy alliance with a clone who will soon take his place.

Now comes the Apple TV+ theatrical/streaming release “Swan Song,” starring Mahershala Ali in a dual role as a dying family man who strikes up an uneasy alliance with a clone who will take his place. Both productions feature actors who succeed in creating two identical and yet different characters, and both productions are warm-hearted, intermittently comedic but primarily emotional deep-dives into some heavy existential territory. But “Swan Song” is the more impactful work in large part because the talented writer-director Benjamin Cleary has the larger canvas of a feature-length film, giving him room to add more shades of color and nuance.

Set in a near future with the obligatory upgrades to vehicles and smart devices while the fashions remain true to today, “Swan Song” is a beautifully shot film, toggling back and forth between “current” events and the love story between Cameron (Ali) and his wife Poppy (Naomie Harris), who meet cute on a train, eventually get married and have a son (Dex Rey) and weather some tough times, most notably the death of Poppy’s beloved twin brother, Andre (Nyasha Hatendi). But everything is beautiful these days — even more so because Poppy is pregnant.

One problem. One life-changing, tragic problem. Cameron is terminally ill with a disease that is rapidly spreading and is causing him to collapse without warning. He’s managed to keep his condition a secret, but time is running out — so Cameron makes a secret journey to Arra Labs, a remote facility where the pioneering Dr. Jo Scott (Glenn Close) has perfected a treatment by which she can clone a human being and transfer not only their physical characteristics but their personalities, their memories, their subconscious, all of it. Once Cameron dies, Cameron 2.0 will take over, with no knowledge he’s a clone. He’ll just believe he’s Cameron because he IS Cameron.

Of course, it’s never that seamless and simple in movies about cloning. Cameron vacillates about going through with the procedure, which will entail a double lie: first, not telling Poppy he’s dying, and then allowing this new Cameron, who is the same as the old Cameron but is he really, to spend the next decades as Poppy’s husband and the father of her children. Heavy stuff!

“Swan Song” dips into mind-bending territory when Cameron is allowed to meet his clone, who for now knows he’s a clone but won’t know he’s a clone once Cameron has died. Cameron also strikes up a friendship with a fellow patient, Kate (Awkwafina), who is spending her last days at the facility while her clone has already assumed her life. Watching all this, you can’t help but ask yourself what YOU would do if you were in Cameron’s or Kate’s shoes. Thanks to the brilliant, nuanced work by the great Mahershala Ali, our heart goes out to both Camerons.