Written by Andy Ray
Junior and Henrietta have been married seven years. The so-far childless couple lives on a farm which has been in Junior’s family for five generations. But the year is 2065, and what used to be fertile Midwestern farmland is now a vast desert-like wasteland, thanks to the ravages of climate change. Junior works in a local meatpacking plant, and Henrietta is a waitress at a local diner.
One night, a strange man named Terrance arrives at their farmhouse to inform Junior the government has selected him to spend a certain amount of time in outer space as part of a project that will test habitability options away from the earth. Apparently, Junior has no choice in the matter – something akin to the military draft during Viet Nam.
Lest the young couple fret over time spent away from one another, the government will provide an A.I. duplicate of Junior to continue his life on earth with Henrietta during his absence. This will involve a very thorough investigation into the personal lives of Junior and Henrietta. Terrance will have to probe every aspect of their lives, including their personal feelings, and as much backstory as they are willing to provide. The more information shared, the more Junior’s A.I. double will represent actual Junior.
This sounds like a fascinating set-up for a modern-day science fiction film, but that is exactly what Garth Davis’ “Foe” is not. When Junior finally leaves earth, and the A.I. double moves in with Henrietta, Davis’ and Iain Reed’s original screenplay skips to Junior’s return a year or more later. “Foe” is the story of a seemingly happy relationship which, it turns out, is unsatisfactory – particularly for Henrietta, but also for Junior, to a certain extent. “Foe” isn’t as harsh (or as obvious) as “Marriage Story,” but it treads in that same territory. The problem is that audiences will expect a sci-fi flick. I believe a strong sci-fi flick could be made around this premise, but that film will have to wait. Instead, this is an intriguing portrait of a marriage experiencing its first signs of trouble.
Played by the great young actress Saoirse Ronan, Henrietta is the film’s most interesting character. Again, she is the more dissatisfied partner in this marriage. Paul Mescal (“The Lost Daughter”) plays Junior, and British actor Aaron Pierre plays Terrance. Much as in Mike Nichols’ “Carnal Knowledge,” these are the only three characters (with speaking roles) in the entire film. “Foe” is about a marriage. And that’s it. We don’t meet any family members, friends, or cohorts from work. The lead characters are our only concern – or at least Davis’ only concern.
There are some glaringly unanswered questions, however. First, what about Junior’s family members and Henrietta’s family members? Are they all deceased? Do they live far away? And do Junior and Henrietta ever intend to procreate? I know these issues are not immediate concerns of the narrative, but I can’t help but wonder.
And furthermore, what about the connectivity of the world in 2065? You can’t tell me a complete stranger arrives late at night to inform Junior he’s been selected to participate in a top-secret outer-space program, and nobody (Junior nor Henrietta) bothers to ask for his credentials! Nor do they search for the project online. Heck, nobody seems to own a computer. Or a cell phone. Or even a television. Is this where Davis and Reed envision the world 42 years from now? No connectivity at all?
I understand the film’s premise is a little creepier and a little more mysterious without connectivity; but that simply won’t be the case. It almost would have worked better to set the picture in 1965 rather than 2065. The top-secret program could have been presented as so very top-secret nobody ever heard of it.
And this may be a minor quibble, but if this program is a function of the U.S. government, why does the man representing the United States have a British accent?
To contrast “Foe” with “Carnal Knowledge,” in Nichols’ film, extraneous information was unnecessary in a film about the sex lives of two friends. Family members, work companions, and other close friends are immaterial to the proceedings. Here, I found myself wanting a little more information about the lives of Junior and Henrietta. I know “Foe” is a film about their relationship (only), but leaving certain information off the table creates some glaring omissions.
I can marginally recommend “Foe,” provided viewers do not expect a science fiction film. Its premise is science fiction, but this is a film about a relationship – and nothing more. Expect to leave the theatre with a bevy of unanswered questions. And then witness just how close a marriage with a seemingly firm foundation is to the brink of collapse. “Foe” is not a fun picture, but it will provoke thought and discussion.