Just how closely can artificial intelligence clone a human being? Can advancements in technology imbue a robot with emotional intelligence?
These questions are at the heart of Foe, which is based on a best-selling novel of the same name by Iain Reid and co-written by director Garth Davis (Lion) and Reid.
We are in the year 2065 and man’s time on the planet is nearing an end.
As a result, the US government is exploring how best to ensure survival in another environment.
Of course, the moon and Mars are options, but instead it is looking at a space station called OuterMore.
Operatives recruit candidates for a human trial.
While positioned as an extraordinary opportunity, the fact is that once “chosen” there is no option to turn down the overture. It is the equivalent of being conscripted.
And so it is for Junior (Paul Mescal), a fifth generation farmer who lives with his high school sweetheart Hen (Saoirse Ronan), who he married seven years ago.
Theirs is a quiet and isolated life. He works with battery hens and she in a café/restaurant.
One day a visitor shakes up their equilibrium.
Terrance (Aaron Pierre) arrives unannounced and proceeds to inform Junior that he has been drafted.
Terrance says nothing will happen for at least two years, but a year later he turns up again. This time he says he will move into the couple’s home and put Junior through rigorous testing.
The intent is for Junior to move into space and away from Hen for an extended period.
So, like it or not, both must learn to adapt to the new situation that is about to confront them.
Truth be told, although their marriage was rosy and fulfilling at the start, from Hen’s perspective Junior has stopped paying her attention.
She is now living in an endlessly repetitive rut, something he to which he is totally oblivious.
And then Terrance drops a bombshell.
Foe presents a fascinating, if chilling, picture of a potential future Earth on the precipice.
The set up takes quite a while before we have the twist in the tail that I just referenced.
Saoirse Ronan establishes Hen’s discontent from the outset. There is greater depth to her characterisation than that assigned to her relatively straightforward husband.
We get the feeling early on that she is just going through the motions and then Terrance becomes the fly in the ointment – the agent provocateur.
Hen is more artistic and intuitive. She wants and needs more. She would like to shake things up … to introduce more excitement.
Junior can’t see there is an issue. He has what he needs. His life is on endless “repeat”.
I found the languid pacing concerning. Time passed slowly and I found myself frequently looking at my watch.
A second twist, introduced late in the piece, caught me off-guard and gets a big tick.
Still, Foe then went on beyond what I see as the perfect ending.
The filmmakers apparently felt the need to explain everything, rather than cut with a solitary shot of a tell-all item left on the couple’s kitchen table.
I am deliberately choosing my words carefully, so as not to give too much away.
Visually, the film is often arresting.
The film’s primary location, being the couple’s decaying farmhouse and blasted setting, is the Winton Wetlands, two and a half hours northeast of Melbourne.
Foe presents a view of a dying world. Pink lakes represent a bleeding planet.
There are references to genetically engineered crops, while mega industries have taken over all food production.
So, while conceptually sound, Foe was at times let down by its execution. As a result, the film didn’t quite resonate with me as much as it could have.
Rated M, it scores a 6½ out of 10.