Much to the dismay of every Black Mirror episode and sci-fi writer who has warned us throughout the years, technology lives alongside us hand-in-hand. More so than the prompts you might ask Alexa with your alarms or lights, the world in writer/director Sophia Barthes’ The Pod Generation takes that premise even further on the subject of reproductive options. If a family had a choice to forgo the natural order of birth and watch their baby grow (in an almost Tamagachi style) pod encasement, would it be worth it? Imagine if your bundle of joy was attached with a long receipt of terms and conditions.
Well, it doesn’t feel so out of place in this world. Everything seems to be sterile, stress-free and dripping with convenient measures ranging from food preparation to having an AI psychiatrist. Do you need oxygen? Swing by an oxygen bar and take a breath. How about a nice weekend hike in the great outdoors? Well, there are things called “nature pods” where you could imagine what that could be like in an immersive experience.
In this “brave new world,” a loving couple Rachel (Emilia Clarke) and Alvy (Chiwetel Ejiofor), have someone acclimated their lives to co-exist. Alvy mainly prefers a life that pre-dates the onset of technological advancement. He’s a botanist and teacher that teaches his students to savor the tangible aspects of plants and trees. Rachel works for an AI company where she’s seemingly on an upward trajectory. In their home, they meet in the middle with their digital client Emilia who calculates their “bliss index” and lets them know when they need r and r.
The couple has always wanted a baby (Rachel even has dreams of being pregnant), but her job projects fear that such a feat would impede her career. However, they have a solution to this problem. Rachel and Alvy can be moved up the waitlist to something called The Womb Center, where babies are manufactured in a fertilization process that has embryos grow in egg-shaped pods. Rachel’s company will even provide some financial assistance – but given the couples’ different stances on how they want to have a baby, this proves to be an impasse.
On the one hand, you get rid of all the things like morning sickness and any complications the mother and the baby might undergo during the nine-month process. Everything at The Womb Center is headed by an all-encompassing company Pegazus – things from DNA and food are curated to a science, and interactions are mostly contained to an application. There are always tradeoffs, and the duo of Clarke and Ejiofor are a charming pair while they navigate this process.
The Pod Generation has moments rooted in comic relief and some emotional fulfillment. While the film starts with Rachel and Alvy at opposite ends of the spectrum regarding this process, they gradually switch places. Alvy is shown to be extra attentive to a dizzying degree with the pod, and Rachel begins to have reservations about everything. Womb Center director Linda (Rosalie Craig) guides the couple through the “new” conception stages. Where they are warm, Craig brings a hammer of corporate coldness that bounces off all three people in hilarious ways.
It’s not that you can take your baby home, and that be the end of it – some stipulations are in place with the contract. The pod is indeed company property, and like an iPhone, it might as well be a financed device. You can only have it for two weeks upon returning it to the center, waiting for the “birthing” that is monitored. A mother-child connection that comes with the process doesn’t happen when you can only see a fetus through a screen.
This is one of the hearty themes Barthes hints at, but doesn’t elect to focus on – selecting a more optimistic tone. There’s nothing particularly wrong with that choice. However, The Pod Generation does raise interesting questions that it only scratched the surface on. At some point in the film, there’s a protest outside of The Womb Center of women who are wholeheartedly against this process – against a world that is telling them that motherhood will only impede their careers (It’s more companies and the societal ecosystem that are not more accommodating to mothers).
Rachel’s friend Alice (Vinette Robinson) and her partner Ben (Jelle De Beule) are another example of a role reversal within this world. Alice echoes the notion that the man/woman dynamic can be on equal standing in this new development. However, at the same time, there’s an undercurrent of anti-choice where society pushes women into a lifestyle where they are only more efficient in the workplace.
These complicated developments only become more pronounced at The Pod Generation’s conclusion that it elects to conveniently solve all the couples’ issues before they have time to stew. We already have enough cautionary tales in the futuristic pantheon serving as loud alarm bells to think twice about these things. Although The Pod Generation is visually impressive with a lot of ideas in tow, its choice not fully to invoke their potential might have hurt it in the end.