THE STORY – A New York couple, Rachel (Emilia Clarke) and Alvy (Chiwetel Ejiofor) live in a not-so-distant future where technology provides ever-more convenient living. A rising tech company executive, Rachel lands a coveted spot at the Womb Center, which offers couples a convenient (and shareable) maternity by way of detachable artificial wombs, or pods. But Alvy, a botanist with an affection for nature, prefers a natural pregnancy. And yet, as Rachel’s AI therapist puts it, why is that “natural”? So begins the tech-paved path to parenthood.
THE CAST – Emilia Clarke, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rosalie Craig, Vinette Robinson & Jean-Marc Barr
THE TEAM – Sophie Barthes (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 109 Minutes
In our highly advanced technological world of smartphones, where devices like computers and home devices are always listening, who knows what will be possible a few years from now, let alone decades down the line? We might have skies filled with flying cars, or we might be able to communicate with each other via holograms rather than text messages or phone calls. We also have to wonder if there’s a way to revamp some of the most natural things to humans, like pregnancy and childbirth, and have them more in line with our technologically-dependent society. Sophie Barthes’ “The Pod Generation” attempts to show us what might be possible.
Exploring just how far technology can go is no new feat for the French-American filmmaker, who previously looked at deep freezing souls in her debut “Cold Souls.” This time around, the director creates a fascinating world where getting pregnant and delivering a child is so last century. Barthes raises a lot of interesting questions and points about how far humans are willing to let technology take over. But, unfortunately, it loses steam and gets far too repetitive just when the stakes should be at their highest.
In the not-so-distant future, New York couple Rachel (Emilia Clarke) and Alvy (Chiwetel Ejiofor) live in a perfectly curated world thanks to all their AI assistants. In the morning, the home assistant preps breakfast picks out Rachel’s outfit and reminds her when it’s time to go out in nature (which involves another perfectly curated pod). Even her therapist is an AI that is a massive eyeball surrounded by flowers. Alvy, on the other hand, prefers to be disconnected from the tech-heavy world. Instead, he tends to his plants in his greenhouse and teaches botany. Society has moved away from the simple pleasures in life, like laying out by the beach and soaking up the sun, unless an AI assistant can set up a program that mimics that Vitamin D.
Rachel is a career-driven woman who is up for a promotion, but as any woman might know, pregnancy and family could take away from that upward momentum. But Rachel has technology on her side with the Womb Center. This highly sought-after clinic with a waitlist of at least two years allows couples to raise a child in an egg-like pod that mimics a womb; only women don’t have to worry about stretch marks, putting on weight, or having to give birth. It’s the future’s way of tackling declining birth rates, according to the head of the mega-corporation Pegazus (Jean-Marc Barr). When Rachel gets a spot at the center, she takes a tour and puts down a downpayment before ever discussing it with Alvy, who, shockingly, is not into this groovy new technology.
Barthes does a stellar job of worldbuilding within “The Pod Generation,” particularly when we see Rachel and Alvy’s parental journey begin. The shiny, pastel heaven that is the Womb Center is the film’s most exciting element, particularly scenes with director Linda Woyzchek (Rosalie Craig). Everything looks too clean and too perfect in the space, and Linda seems a little too nice, except when Rachel and Alvy ask too many questions. Crafting a child inside an egg screams bad vibes, especially because the government has stopped supporting education, and Pegazus has stepped up. Too much government interference makes many people uncomfortable, but what would they say about this company literally raising their child from inception and onward?
Clarke and Ejiofor play well together as total opposites navigating this high-tech world, especially once they have their pod. With the pod, you can play music for your fetus through an app and check on its developmental progress by looking into the pod itself. Ejiofor’s Alvy is disinterested in everything until he begins to bond with the pod in his garden and bring it wherever he goes. While it’s silly to see someone care so much for a giant Kinder Joy-looking egg, it’s also quite sweet to see a soon-to-be father spend time with their growing child, which they otherwise wouldn’t be able to because of biology. It’s also interesting to see how Rachel, who was so gung-ho about the journey initially, begins to question everything her husband does and thinks he’s becoming too obsessed with the pod. But she soon begins to dream about nature, her child, and the world where she wants to raise her family, and lots of red flags finally become apparent.
Unfortunately, the film begins to lose steam, just as it should really pick up the pace. On the same page of wanting to disconnect from reality, Rachel and Alvy go head-to-head with Linda and the Womb Center, who remind them that they’re technically just “renters” and the pod is not their property. Many of their interactions with the company become repetitive, and the action ultimately leads to a low-stakes, albeit sweet, ending.
It’s a shame that “The Pod Generation” falls flat in the end because Barthes raises many fascinating points. If this technology were available, would humans embrace it? If so, how far are we willing to go with it at the expense of the natural world? Based on what “The Pod Generation” and plenty of other sci-fi movies show us, hopefully, we’re a bit more skeptical of all that’s available at our fingertips in the future.