In writer / director Sophie Barthes’ peculiar new sci-fi satire The Pod Generation, there’s little doubt or disagreement about how overworked, hyper-surveilled, and disconnected from nature many people are. Set in a near future where things like freshly 3D-printed toast have become the norm, most everyone understands how deeply messed up it is that their child-obsessed society’s given up on any semblance of a public educational system. People who have quality healthcare through their jobs know that they’re a privileged class, and it’s no secret how that kind of stratification can be harmful. It’s just that people are far, far too enamored with and preoccupied by the beautifully designed technology that controls most aspects of their lives to care.
While that old romantic spark doesn’t always burn as bright as it used to between rising tech exec Rachel (Emilia Clarke) and her longtime partner Alvy (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a botanist, things are mostly good, and there’s peace in their luxurious New York City home. As an enlightened man of the future, Alvy has no issues with the fact that Rachel’s salary eclipses his many times over, and Rachel is part of a generation of women who grew up knowing that they would become the primary breadwinners in their households. Men are still present in The Pod Generation’s workforce to a certain extent. But more often than not, it’s women who are making deals, calling shots, and taking home the biggest paychecks, in large part because of technological advancements like artificial, detachable wombs.
The Pod Generation features an Apple-esque, pasted-forward vision of the future
The Womb Center’s portable, egg-shaped baby incubators are already a very popular but exclusive kind of luxury assisted reproductive technology as The Pod Generation story first kicks into gear. But Rachel herself isn’t entirely sure what to do when she gets a promotion that comes with better insurance, and her boss Alice (Vinette Robinson) encourages her to consider The Womb Center as she thinks about the future of her career and whether she wants to start a family.
As richly detailed as The Pod Generation’s Apple-esque, pastel-forward vision of the future is, the movie doesn’t want you wondering too much about how The Womb Center’s pods work or why the company would hire someone as unnerving as Linda (Rosalie Craig) to work in its flagship store. Small things like the mention of a “national bliss index” or moments like when Rachel and a colleague stop to buy some quick hits of pure oxygen at an open-air plant bar help you get used to the strangeness of The Pod Generation’s idea of the 22nd century. What the movie really wants you to think about, though — especially as Rachel and Alvy’s newly gestating pod baby starts straining their relationship — is just how profoundly that kind of technology could change the world.
The Pod Generation’s ideas about how technology could free women from the physiological and sociological burdens that come with pregnancy are the crux of the film. But there’s a deeper and more widespread kind of existential disruption taking place all around Rachel and Alvy — a curiously mismatched pair with a conspicuous lack of on-screen chemistry — that Barthes’ script unevenly teases out as the couple prepares to become parents.
The Pod Generation’s focus on Rachel being over-reliant on AI-powered therapy feels resonant with our own current moment of fascination with chatbots, as does the way that everyone carries around eyeball-shaped virtual assistants that dutifully analyze everything. But as cleverly visualized as those details are, they never feel quite as interesting as the way the movie plays with the notion of women “having it all” and the reality that men often pull back and refuse to really engage or properly support their partners when “they” become pregnant.
Between their characters having such staunchly different ideological stances and the inexplicable choice to cast Clarke as an unconvincing American, Rachel and Alvy alone aren’t exactly the most compelling part of The Pod Generation. But their awkwardness has a way of reinforcing how much their world feels like the product of a years-long process of everything becoming an advertisement for things that people don’t actually need.
Being so packed full of interconnected ideas that sometimes feel like they’re jockeying for attention, The Pod Generation ultimately ends up feeling just a bit too busy to be as effective a satire as it could be. But the movie’s so dense with novel design choices and moral questions meant to give you pause that The Pod Generation’s probably worth a watch if only to discuss it with a friend.
The Pod Generation premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, but plans for a wider release have yet to be announced.