This review is published as part of DraftKings Network’s 2023 New York Film Festival coverage.
The overall landscape inside Foe is one of the nightmarish outcomes scientists have warned us about for decades. Much of the Earth has been rendered inhabitable due to excessive heat and daily natural disasters. Food is scarce, and humanity is looking for ways to cope with an increasingly unlivable situation. On a smaller scale, a longtime couple, Junior (Paul Mescal) and Henrietta (Saoirse Ronan) live on a farm and sustain things as best as possible. One night, they are visited by somewhat in a futuristic car with extremely bright headlights. His name is Terrance (Aaron Pierre), and he works for a company called OuterMore, which is building a major space station and selecting people to come aboard (a modern tech company’s dream).
But there are a couple of potential problems with this opportunity. Junior is the lone representative of the couple to be selected as a potential to go to the place named The Installation. Not right away, however! This will occur within two years, and Junior and Henrietta will have to reckon with the prospect of living without each other. However, there might be a 2065-year solution to that. Terrance proposes that an android copy of Junior be put in his place during his prolonged absence. This entity will supposedly be like Junior hasn’t even left – it will have all his memories intact and all the mannerisms down to a tee.
Garth Davis’s adaptation of Iain Reid’s 2018 book of the same name addresses how weird and uncomfortable something like this could be while trying to be a portrait of a marriage that could have potentially lost its way. It’s hard not to when there’s so little to do in a world progressively falling apart. Junior is not necessarily keen on having a stand-in play his role. While Henrietta is initially angry at being left behind, it’s shown she’s a little more open to the idea.
The film conveys in small doses that this union has frayed over time. They were married as high school sweethearts and exist in a secluded place where there isn’t a lot outside of one another. Junior works at a chicken factory and Henrietta as a waitress, and that’s the extent of human interaction outside of their home life. Henrietta also expresses she used to love to play the piano – but for some reason, Junior is against hearing her play. It’s not that you don’t want to buy in that love will somehow conquer all. Mescal and Ronan make you want to believe their characters can find their center again in the limited time they have left – whether it be from Earth collapsing or a living tissue having clones.
Even with that investment, Foe doesn’t feel like it knows what it wants to say. Things get even more complicated when Terrance lets Junior and Henrietta realize he has to stay in their house for a while. From then on, his character is more of a pseudo-psychiatrist trying to chronicle everything that makes Junior tick, but uncovers why their union has hit a rough point. We get this beautiful imagery of landscapes provided by the camera work of Mátyás Erdély. It invokes the feeling that passion and admiration can be reclaimed even during turbulent times.
With that being said, Foe does an about-face and suddenly remembers it has a Twilight Zone-esque premise it has to satisfy. A revelatory situation in the third act is supposed to pull a heightened sense of despair out of both our main characters and the audience. But it falls mainly flat because of some dialogue choices and the way the theme intrudes on what the film tells us.
At the beginning of Foe, Terrance asks Junior and Henrietta if they want to continue to live mundane lives or if they want to be a part of something special and unique. The sheer suggestion of a split helps uncover what has long been festering on the farm grounds. It feels like that is the lesson the film is going for – but it also brings the android element in. The saying is three’s a crowd, and that’s precisely what it feels like in this particular narrative.