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15th November 2023

Foe review: Saoirse Ronan and Paul Mescal star in doppelgänger dystopia

Garth Davis brings to screen Iain Reid’s 2018 sci-fi drama novel with a beautiful but disturbing glimpse of a devastating near-future hypothesis
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Foe review: Saoirse Ronan and Paul Mescal star in doppelgänger dystopia
Photo: Saoirse Ronan and Paul Mescal in FOE @ Amazon MGM Studios

Set in the year 2065, in a dystopian rural American Midwest, Foe follows two years in the lives of Henrietta and Junior – played by Irish superstars, Saoirse Ronan and Paul Mescal. In a reversal of the Blade Runner scenario, real people are conscripted to work Off-World, while artificial intelligence (AI) replacements are made to perform menial jobs on Earth.

Our story begins when Junior is “selected” for this “opportunity,” in the words of the corporate/government representative, Terrance (Aaron Pierre). However, this opportunity comes at a worrying cost as the AI replacement will not only do Junior’s job on Earth but also stand in for his personal relationships. The couple are horrified to hear that an AI being will live with Henrietta while Junior works on the space station.

While Junior undergoes various tests to prepare for his sojourn in space, he is also subject to a barrage of questions from Terrance about the intimate details of his and his wife’s relationship. The combined effect is a little short of physical and emotional torture – for the character and the audience. Mysteriously, Henrietta seems to have much cosier sessions with their interlocutor, which leads us to question her loyalty to Junior, whose looming departure-she supposedly regrets.

The confusingly inconsistent relationship of the main characters, and their reactions to the meddling of Terrance – played to chilling, maddening perfection by Aaron Pierre, are head-scratchers throughout the film. The key information necessary to understand the plot, comes right at the end of the film leaving viewers confused at the state of central relationships, and desperately awaiting Junior’s departure and the arrival of his AI replacement.

Nevertheless, cinematic beauty and tension are Foe‘s strengths. The scenery of and around the couple’s townhouse has a tragic beauty, as do the rare and mysterious encounters they have with the living animal kingdom. The sense of being pushed out of your own home is achingly apparent. Watching Junior being vacuum-packed, as naked as the raw chickens he processes every day, is as unpleasant as it is symbolic.

Foe can be seen as a semi-successful fable about the dangers of treating humans as we’ve treated the rest of the planet: as a resource to be used and gradually replaced with synthetics. In the film, we are never actually shown Junior’s new life in space, perhaps Garth Davis aspired to shift the focus away from depictions of glamorised development to show the ugly processes behind it, and what’s left behind for ordinary people – mere scraps of life, as the ground dries and the roaches multiply.


Foe is available to watch in cinemas now.

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