We often come across films that deal with science fiction, moving away from the mainstream and more popular currents. From superheroes to space opera For all audiences, through camouflaged war epics of anti-alien resistance or parables about the end of the world. With its many shapes and colors, but When we find a production that moves away from those highly successful records, we talk about intimate science fiction films, small, everyday, or “literary”.
Possibly because films like ‘Ex Machina’ or ‘The arrival’, with which this’ Swan song ‘has points in common, raise ideas of a greater abstraction and density than, say,’ The war of tomorrow ‘or’ Finch ‘, to give two examples of films with commercial ambitions and very different from each other. And that makes us automatically think of books, the written aspect of the genre, perfect to convey pure ideas, beyond the characters or the scenarios. Asimov’s version of ‘Fundación’ and its serial translation, with changes as controversial as they are inevitable, is the best example of how the two sides of the genre work.
However, and although on paper this magnificent ‘The Swan Song’ –just released on Apple TV +– It is due to those types of films that we could say are close to a more literary science fiction given their absence of action and their handling of more complex ideas than usual, it is cinema in its purest form thanks to its extraordinary use of visual language. Y Although his argument is the one that raises a conflict that is pure gender, it is through the images that it is emotional and delves into his proposal.
The film shows us a superb Mahershala Ali playing a double role: a sick man who has only a few weeks to live but has not dared to tell his family and a clone that has all his memories and is virtually identical to him in everything. It is part of an experimental treatment that he embarks on and that will conclude when the healthy clone replaces him and continues with his life. But doubts arise practically from the moment in which our man sees himself face to face with his double.
Twice as much trouble
‘The swan song’ puts on the table one of the obsessions, if not the great obsession of science fiction since the time of Frankenstein and beyond: sometimes opposing ourselves to the invading Other, sometimes exploring the confines of time and space – inside and outside – the genre has always wondered what makes us human. What defines us in the ultimate degree.
And this Benjamin Cleary film – on his stunning feature debut, after winning the Oscar in 2015 with his devastating short ‘Stutterer’ – speaks to just that. Is that person an exact replica of a person, or is there “something” that defines and distinguishes the original? Are memories that define a human? And if someone has exactly the same memories and experiences as someone else, is it the same person? What sets us apart, ultimately, some people from others? What is individuality?
And as we say, there is no metaphysical chitchat in ‘Swan Song’, we don’t see the clone asking tricky questions to the original human or vice versa, or the creator of the duplication system (also sensational Glenn Close) explaining the technical details of the process. Thanks to the staging of Cleary, who shoots with great sensitivity both everyday moments and those of bewilderment, and with a very intelligent and rational use of production design and photography (signed by Masanobu Takayanag), a world is created future but recognizable, where emotions flow without difficulty.
But it is above all the interpretations of Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris (who gives life to the protagonist’s wife) that allow ‘El canto del swan’ to delve into subjects so complex and so easy to trivialize. His control of looks and gestures brings to life a film that could have been very literary but ends up being extremely cinematic.