After being diagnosed with a terminal disease, Cameron Turner (Mahershala Ali), the protagonist of the Apple TV+ sci-fi romance drama ‘Swan Song,’ goes through the five stages of grief not successively but simultaneously. As he makes the choice between letting his family experience the agony and grief of watching him die or ensuring that they will never know about his inevitable passing, Cameron takes the burden of pain and knowledge on his own shoulders and endures the collective onslaught of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
In the process, he forms an extraordinary bond with Jack, who is Cameron’s clone created to replace him in the lives of his wife Poppy (Naomie Harris) and son Cory. Here is everything you need to know about the ending of ‘Swan Song.’ SPOILERS AHEAD.
Swan Song Plot Synopsis
The film’s title refers to the metaphorical concept that denotes the final action, gesture, or performance (with artists) by an individual before their retirement or death. The film is set in the near future when technology has further alienated humanity from each other with futuristic air-pods, contact lenses, and watches. Artificial intelligence has replaced most of the blue-collar workforce, and trains and self-driving electric taxis seem to have become primary modes of public transportation. It’s neither a dystopian nor a utopian future that ‘Swan Song’ depicts, but a practical one that the world might get if everything goes right in its current trajectory.
Graphic designer/illustrator Cameron meets teacher and musician Poppy on the train. Their first encounter evolves into a delightful and romantic scene as Cameron mistakes the chocolate bar she purchased as his. When she starts eating the bar, he presumes she is flirting. Overcoming the dilemmas of a classic introvert, Cameron also breaks a piece of the chocolate and starts eating. This goes back and forth until her stop comes. It is only after she is gone that Cameron realizes his mistake. He is predictably embarrassed at first, but as he recalls their silent but promising interactions, it is soon replaced by excitement.
The film then skips a few years. Cameron and Poppy are married, and Cory is their well-adjusted, intelligent, and adorable son. While the film takes its time to explore the breath-taking, semi-futuristic setting of the scenes, the narrative moves at a brisk pace.
Cameron has his first blackout in the same sequence in which his and Poppy’s picture-perfect life is introduced. He has the episode in the bathroom. Only a few feet away, Poppy is sleeping on the bed. After he regains consciousness, Cameron closes the door. Perhaps a part of him already knows whatever caused the blackout is serious, and he doesn’t want to bring more grief and pain into his wife’s life.
It is later revealed that Poppy lost her twin brother in a motorcycle accident before the events depicted in the film and suffered a deep bout of depression. Eventually, she went to a therapist, and things got better. Before the blackout, the two of them weren’t what they used to be, but they were making progress. Poppy is even pregnant with their second child when the film opens.
His diagnosis catches Cameron off-guard. Refusing to put his family through yet another tragedy, he contacts Arra House, a facility run by Dr. Scott (Glenn Close) with the help of psychologist and lead technician Dalton (Adam Beach), Rafa (Lee Shorten), and an A.I. that does the work of 50 people. The facility creates a perfect copy of a dying individual down to their DNA. They then imprint the duplicate’s mind with the conscious and subconscious memories of important and mundane moments of the life of the original. Afterward, the clone is sent to live with the original’s family for a trial period before their memory is completely wiped clean of the fact that they are a clone.
At first, Cameron is too unsettled by the entire thing and decides to opt-out. But being close to his family once more makes him realize why he chose to be replaced in their lives in the first place. He goes back, and the process resumes. After the memory transference, the clone — or Jack is — awakened. The two of them go through their shared past with Dr. Scott so that Jack can acclimate with his new life, and Cameron discovers that he is not ready to let go.
Swan Song Ending: What Does Cameron Choose by the End? Does Cameron Get to Say Goodbye to His Family?
After Cameron chooses to return to Arra House, Dr. Scott takes him to meet a duplicate, who no longer remembers that she is one and is now living happily with the family of the original. Cameron later meets the said original. Her name is Kate (Awkwafina), and the two of them form a bond as they reflect together on their impending death and the surrealness of their situation. And it’s the latter than the former that seems to bother Cameron more. He can’t tell his family about his diagnosis and that he is dying. Because as Dr. Scott keeps telling him, if he does, he can’t be replaced with Jack.
A part of him knows that he is taking the choice away from Poppy. But for Poppy, having the choice means suffering. So, it’s still ultimately Cameron’s choice whether to let his wife suffer or not. As he watches Jack speak about the past as if it’s his own — and in certain ways it is — Cameron is filled with what can be best described as envy. Dr. Scott has modified the relevant strand of DNA in Jack that made Cameron sick. This means that Jack will never have the terminal disease that Cameron has. He has an entire life to look forward to, and he will spend it with Cameron’s wife and children, while Cameron will die in seclusion, without his family even knowing about it.
The contract Cameron signed allows him to walk away during the process at any time. As mentioned above, he does so once but comes back later. He considers that option throughout the film, but ironically, that choice gets taken away from him. While visiting his family to say goodbye, Cameron has a seizure in front of his home. He is taken back before Poppy notices anything. When he wakes up, Jack has already replaced him.
Beyond frustration and anger, what Cameron feels at this point is fear. He has a nightmare in which he sees Jack getting angry at Cory and lashing out. He escapes from the facility and goes back to what used to be his home. He feels conflicted about walking into the bedroom that Jack now shares with Poppy. So, he goes to his office, his slice of solitude where he used to express his inherent creativity. There, he finds new drawings, indicating that Jack has continued his work as an illustrator, and happy, loving messages between Jack and Poppy, about themselves and about Cory. Cameron realizes that life has gone on for his family, and it will go on with Jack there with them.
Jack comes into the room and acutely understands what Cameron is experiencing. How can he not? They are the same person. Something incredible happens then. Cameron finally chooses to let Jack be with his family, while Jack lets Cameron say his goodbyes. They exchange clothes, and Cameron subsequently spends time with Cory, drinking apple juice and eating edamame before going to Poppy and holding her one last time. When he returns to the facility, Cameron is wistful, heartbroken, but content. He is finally at peace, both with his fate and his decision.
What Is the Significance of the Video Clip That Jack Left for Cameron?
Before Jack’s memory is wiped clean, he sends a video clip for Cameron, recorded with his lenses. It features Poppy, busy in her kitchen. Jack approaches her and asks her to tell him that she loves him. Although she is a bit curious about what is in his mind, she acquiesces. Staring right into his eyes, she says, “I love you, Cameron Turner.” With the real Cameron watching the clip, those words automatically become the last things that Poppy says to him.
The clip also lets Cameron know that his family will be alright even though he will not be there with them. They will love each other and take care of each other. His children will grow up in a happy household without the tragedy of his own death eclipsing their lives. While the future is unpredictable and no one knows what will happen tomorrow, Cameron has at least ensured his family will be safe for now.
What Disease Does Cameron Have?
The film doesn’t explicitly mention what disease Cameron has. But we know from his conversation with Kate that they and the client before Kate all had the same oncologist. So, it must be some form of cancer. Given that Cameron points to his head sometimes while speaking about the disease, it likely started as a brain tumor. Jack even mentions that there were dizziness and headaches in the early days, and Cameron suffers from blackouts and seizures throughout the film. This is perhaps the most nihilistic part of the film. Even in a future where humanity has made significant progress in various aspects of science, late-stage cancer remains incurable.
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