2023 | PG-13 | starring Emilia Clarke, Chiwetel Ejiofor | written & directed by Sophie Barthes | 1h 50m |
In the very near future, Rachel (Emilia Clarke) is given the option for a promotion at her job and with that the benefit of participating in a program that will create a baby in a portable egg-shaped artificial womb requiring none of the stress to her body or time off from work. While her husband Alvey (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is initially against it, the two go through with the procedure and care for their pod as it grows life, increasingly subject to the demands and fine print of the genetics company that created it.
It’s a trope to say something is like a near-future dystopian story is like Black Mirror – but The Pod Generation is very, very Black Mirror, particularly their “The Entire History of You”. The look of it, the colors and the banal future technology giving us things easily. But that’s in the set-up. In a Black Mirror episode we would introduce a new piece of technology and watch how it burns people’s lives down. The Pod Generation doesn’t seem to have such a fatalist perspective on it’s central tech. In fact, it seems to have no perspective on it, other than maybe as a female fantasy to “free women of the burden of their wombs being controlled by men” to paraphrase one of Rachel’s feminist friends (which the movie name-checks as such). It would probably say the satire is now the wombs are controlled by a corporation. From one oppressor to another.
Some see the pod as liberation, some as unnatural. It’s interesting how in the world of the film some people choose the pod and some still have natural pregnancies and there is something of a tension between the two. In a larger sci-fi film the pod might be a symptom of a larger social rot that forced everyone to rely on this (say human fertility went to zero). Here, it’s entirely a consumer choice for a working woman. The Pod Generation is not particularly interested in being dystopian sci-fi.
The problem, is writer/director Sophie Barthes doesn’t evolve the movie past the premise. This is a great idea in search of a story. The pod doesn’t illuminate something in Rachel’s life or test their marriage. The movie doesn’t satirize the idea, probe into absurd layers of this concept or play it for nightmare fuel that haunts the characters. At one point Ejiofor plans to steal the pod from the lab and the movie threatens to get fun for a moment before hard cutting to long after his escape. The film simply becomes a visual essay on the topic. The result of a race to be the first movie out of the gate about artificial wombs. It’s not a character story nor a high concept satire.