It’s not often that a movie perfectly understands what the science fiction genre should do. Garth Davis, director of films like Lion and Mary Magdalene, has crafted a truly special film with Foe. This movie stars Paul Mescal and Saoirse Ronan as a married couple living in the Midwest in 2065, the setting for a dystopian future where Earth is becoming increasingly uninhabitable and some are moving to a space station. When a man named Terrance (Aaron Pierre) arrives at their door with an unusual proposition, everything kicks into gear, and we have a beautiful film that deals with timely, universal themes.
With A.I. as a constant topic of discussion in the media lately, it’s fascinating to see how films reflect this subject. Foe features the idea of human substitutes, designed to serve in the place of a human in certain situations where humans cannot be present. This movie delves into the concept of whether a person can truly be replicated, with some ideas feeling reminiscent of Blade Runner. Not only is it a very suitable film for the times, but it also subverts a few sci-fi tropes. Typically, when the call to action involves a character being plucked out of their lives to go to space, it is an exciting moment.
However, Foe goes down a different route. Instead, it shows the emotional depth of that decision. Junior (Mescal) is chosen to go into space, and he would have to leave his wife, Henrietta (Ronan), behind. There are bits of Interstellar here as we get to sit with these two people and their emotions. Davis spends a lot of time examining them. Through their dialogue, we see their perfections, their imperfections, everything that makes them work, and everything that doesn’t. They feel lived in, with a long history behind them that they look back upon while being forced to look forward to the future.
Foe is science fiction, it’s psychological thriller, but above all else, it’s a drama. There’s a strong emotional relationship at the center of this film that makes every event very compelling. It sometimes plays like a twisted romance drama that starts out beautiful but takes a hell of a turn in the second half. Davis successfully gets you to care about the characters this movie surrounds. At the core, we have a couple about to be torn apart by external forces, which is heart wrenching and tragic. One particularly well-written scene features Junior telling Henrietta all of the small things he will miss about her, which will resonate with many viewers, myself included.
Mescal is proving himself to be a movie star. He got an Oscar nomination for Aftersun, and this is his second appearance at NYFF after his role in the fantastic All of Us Strangers. He is similarly phenomenal here. There are a few scenes, particularly one where he demonstrates an unspeakable rage, where you get a sense of how fantastic of a performer he is. With his upcoming role in Gladiator 2, his career is blooming in the direction he deserves. Ronan is one of the best actresses working today, and she brings power and gravitas to her character. Furthermore, we have two Irish lead actors throwing on their perfect American accents in another example of how easy it is for non-American actors to do our accents.
There are three main characters in Foe, but most marketing materials and headlines only showcase the two Oscar-nominated leads. The character of Terrance was originally supposed to be played by Lakeith Stanfield, a phenomenal actor who would have done an excellent job. However, he was replaced by Pierre, who is not the big name that audiences will see the movie for. However, don’t doubt Pierre. He’s sublime in a film that gives him a lot to work with. He’s a mysterious force that can be antagonistic and pull you in with his words. He’s voicing Mufasa in Disney’s upcoming The Lion King prequel film, so we can only hope his career gains traction from here. He is superb.
Foe is beautiful, meditative sci-fi film. It grounds the story in the emotions of a complex romantic relationship. The feelings both lead characters struggle with are true to any real-life couple. There’s something so resonant about a sci-fi movie where the world is in turmoil, but two people can still find happiness in each other, even if it’s finite. There is a lot of tragedy in this movie, especially in the conversations each character has with Terrance, sometimes not knowing what the other person will hear. The final half-hour is particularly astounding, as we have plot points that feel inevitable but in the best way possible. Not all of it works, but the rich, emotional layers allow this movie to be one of the best science fiction films of the year.
As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 8 equates to “Great.” While there are a few minor issues, this score means that the art succeeds at its goal and leaves a memorable impact.
Disclaimer: ComingSoon attended the world premiere at the New York Film Festival for our review.