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Lucy Wigley

What is Foe based on? Origins of the Prime Video sci-fi thriller exploring marriage and identity

Saoirse Ronan and Paul Mescal in Foe.

What is Foe based on? Viewers tuning into the movie are keen to know what formed the basis of the Prime Video sci-fi thriller.

Academy Award nominees Saoirse Ronan and Paul Mescal make for stellar leads in Prime Video movie, Foe. The pair star as married couple Junior and Hen, who live an unassuming life farming on a secluded piece of land owned by Junior’s family for generations. Their lives change forever when a stranger arrives at their door with an unsettling proposal. If survival is to continue in a new world, Junior and Hen will have to risk their marriage and identities, in a world beset by uncertainty.

In the same way viewers tuning in to Netflix thrillers Fool Me Once and Leave The World Behind have wondered about the inspiration behind them, the same question is now being asked about Foe. Similarly, questions were also raised about the inspiration behind ITV's Platform 7 recently - if you like to know what your favourite shows and movies are based on, here's the origins of Foe.

What is Foe based on?

Foe is based on the 2018 novel of the same name, by Canadian writer Iain Reid. The author had previously published two notable memoirs, with Foe being his second fictional novel.

According to CBC, Reid has cited two predominant inspirations behind Foe. The first was his brother's job as a space engineer, the the second came after attending an award ceremony during which the recipient of one award thanked his wife in his acceptance speech.

Reid said "For whatever reason, in that moment, something about that seemed unsettling to me. I just thought, 'Well, what is her thing? What does she do? It's not just to prop up his genius or whatever.' And so I started thinking about that type of relationship, that type of marriage, where narratives are written within the relationship."

He added "I realized that that type of relationship felt confining. And so I kind of had this setting of an old farmhouse, which also feels confining when there's only two people there and it's in the middle of nowhere. So I realized quickly that, well, the opposite of that is space - it's literally endless, it goes on forever. And so I realized this would sort of be my space book somehow. And with that, with those basic ingredients, I just started writing Foe."

What is Foe about?

Just like the source material, Junior and Hen are a young couple living on a secluded farm in the future. The pair's marriage is already a little rocky, and they are also facing environmental turmoil as earth becomes increasingly unliveable. Their lives change when the charismatic Terrance arrives on their doorstep to tell them Junior has been selected to take a mission into space as part of a trip to ensure humanity's ongoing survival.

Junior is fearful of leaving his wife alone, and of Terrance's presence in their home. Terrance informs Junior he needn't worry, as the company he works for, OuterMore, plan to build a robotic replica of Junior to care for Hen in his absence. Terrance's role is to interview and study the couple, to produce the best biomechanical Junior double he can.

There is a twist at the conclusion of the book and the movie, where viewers find out the Junior they've known all along and believe to be the human form, is actually the robot. With his work done and the real Junior returned from space, the robotic Junior is set to be shut down and sent away. In the book, Hen shows no reaction when the shut down takes place.

However, in the movie, she is distraught at the robot being removed, screaming and sobbing and trying to prevent it from happening. Script writer Garth Davis told Games Radar that this change became the most truthful choice during the film making process.

Iain Reid co-wrote the adaptation and added "It also just felt more cinematic, I think too, which is something Garth and I discussed a lot during the process. As we were working on the script, that felt like an exciting possibility to really explore that scene and try and get the most out of it... to give the actors room to really make it their own."

(Image credit: Amazon Studios)

What do the beetles mean in Foe?

Iain Reid had not offered any explanation for the repetition of beetle symbolism throughout Foe, their meaning has been left to speculation.

However, writer Garth Davis touched briefly on the creature's role in the film during an interview with EW. They wander around Hen and Junior's home throughout the course of the movie, with the concept that the real Junior might've crushed them, while AI Junior would let them live.

When Henrietta leaves to travel the world at the end of the film, she too is replaced by a robotic version of herself. The same question is raised - would real and robotic Hen make the same choice regarding crushing the beetles? 

Discussing Paul Mescal's performance as the real Junior observing his android version being destroyed, Davis said "You can tell that he knows that he's crushing that beetle and denying that part of himself. He's allowing it to happen. There's something very deep happening in those glances and in those performances that Paul and I really got into. It's a real rabbit hole."

(Image credit: Amazon Studios)

Foe: Cast

  • Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn, Lady Bird) as Hen
  • Paul Mescal (Aftersun, Normal People) as Junior
  • Aaron Pierre (The A Word, Brother) as Terrance

According to Hollywood Reporter, Ronan and Mescal were cast based on performance and chemistry, with their shared identities as Irish actors making them feel like a genuine couple. Garth Davis said they could easily pass for "This couple married straight out of high school" adding "I just had a real hunch that chemistry would feel believable, and they are both really kind of hungry [as actors] to explore a more mature relationship."

When casting the role of Terrance, Davis said "The antagonist was the hardest one to cast because you can really fall into stereotype, and I was really keen to try and explore something that felt fresh and intriguing. I thought he brought a lot of interesting choices, like he really did believe what he was doing was going to better humanity."

We also have intel on what My Life with the Walter Boys and A Nearly Normal Family are based on. If you enjoyed Apple TV+ period romp The Buccaneers, we can also tell you the origins of this tale, too.

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