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Released 2023. Director: Garth Davis

FOE HAS THE MAKINGS OF AN INTELLECTUAL SCI-FI examining the psychology of a wounded romance. Gazing through a dark lens at human cloning, the movie would slot nicely as an episode of Black Mirror. It takes place in the future when water and habitable land has become scarce as a consequence of environmental degradation. Humans have begun exploring outer-space settlements where androids endowed with consciousness and human likeness are laying the groundwork for relocation.

On a rural patch of scorched ground in Midwest America, young couple Henrietta and Junior cling on to a farm that’s been in Junior’s family for generations. There’s been no rain for as long as anyone can remember and the land struggles to produce anything but dry grass. In a place like this where every tree is dead you feel guilty asking for a glass of water.

One night, a stranger called Terrance arrives saying he’s from the government, with a solemn pronouncement that Junior has been selected to go into space. It’s not really a choice, and the couple have a year before separation.

This happens relatively early in the movie and up to this point, the movie hasn’t built up a sense of connection for the audience to feel the impact of this unwelcome news. What we do feel is a vague distance between the couple, like two ex-es forced to live in the same house. This is not a story about the heartbreak of an anticipated parting, but more about how they live with each other in the present.

What happens now? What if they never see each other again? Foe wants us to think about questions like these. All the parts that go into a marriage – commitment, trust, intimacy, companionship, love, passion, what do we make of them at times like these?

There’s so much to unpack, and like the endless sultry nights on a parched landscape, so tiresome to tackle. I get this future is glum and short on hope but must the movie be this dreary and monotonous? Garth Davis, adapting from a novel by Iain Reid, attempts to craft poetry out of this leaden atmosphere, but what we get is apathy and lethargy. The language is stilted and the emotions are hollow. Foe is inert when it needs to be poignant, strained when it needs to be moving.

The handsome pairing of Saoirse Ronan and Paul Mescal should make an electrifying couple. In reality there’s very little chemistry between them. With their pale skin glistening like two Western tourists unaccustomed to warm tropical nights, Ronan and Mescal sink into their roles plumbing the depths in this philosophical think-piece, valiant though aimless.

Much of the movie is an overlong look at the strain in the relationship between Hen and Junior. The twist that comes after may provide some explanations but doesn’t excuse the weakness. In its flawed way the movie does throw up some interesting questions about commitment and fidelity. Is it cheating if Hen has real, even deeper, feelings for a clone than the real person? Foe takes us into the grey areas of human sentiments versus artificial intelligence but is unable to get itself out of a muddle.

The thing is, we care very little about what goes on because the movie doesn’t do enough to engage us with the characters. The bad mood between them doesn't help. You feel for the couple as you would towards someone you read in an article in a random magazine you pick up at a waiting room.

Foe tries to say too much, when a reticent approach with precise writing and directing might have conveyed more impact. The deliberate attempts to inject mystery end up sapping away the tension, romance and interest because the script imposes on us to go through a cheerless journey on an over-complicated emotional landscape. Like a friend who tries to explain simple ideas by using big words because he’s just finished a course in psychoanalysis.

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1 Comment

Apr 03

Agreed. Didnt feel any connection to the characters and found it a little dull.

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