Sundance 2023: The Pod Generation Review
“I’d have the baby if I could,” remarks Alvy (Chiwetel Ejiofor) as he is confronted with the reality that his wife, Rachel (Emilia Clarke), can’t continue being the breadwinner of the family if she’s pregnant. The empty gesture echoes throughout The Pod Generation – a movie where a device can now save women’s bodies and lost productivity from the pregnancy process by hosting a fetus within an artificial womb (complete with colorways and charging stations). That concept alone leaves Sophie Barthes’ latest film with a new world to explore. However, for each introduction of new technology in a world not far removed from our own, The Pod Generation fails to break focus from its main characters long enough to see that it’s rarely delving into any of its ideas with meaningful depth.
At the center of it all are Alvy and Rachel: two people who walk through life with entirely differing perspectives. Rachel’s on the same wavelength as the rest of the world as she adheres to her apps, talks to her AI assistants, and always remains efficient. Her husband, however, is the opposite. Alvy’s a botanist that refuses to accept a world where technology replaces nature. His steady refusal to get with the times is looked down upon by AI and engineers in a reality where technology is constantly progressing.
Things change when Rachel finds out that she got the appointment of a lifetime. Unbeknownst to Alvy, Rachel signed them on a waiting list to have a baby through Pegazus’s hottest invention: the Pod. As an artificial womb where the baby can grow, Pegazus has created an expensive carrying case for a fetus. The father can now simulate having a child on their own, and the mother does not have to put life on hold during her pregnancy, making the invention a groundbreaking tool for parents to share the burden and joy of the journey to parenthood. It’s a clever concept that The Pod Generation understands will rub some people the wrong way.
It also derives itself from a world where technology has already started taking over, making more and more human responsibilities redundant via AI and robots. Barthes illustrates a sterile, efficient world that has severed its ties with nature. It’s a not-too-distant future made easily relatable by just how much of it already exists within our lifetime. My apartment isn’t run by an AI yet, but Google Homes and Amazon Echos can be tied to so many home devices that even the simple act of turning on a light can seem like a waste of time when a computer can do it for you. The push for self-driving cars and smart homes makes the future displayed in The Pod Generation feel like a utopia within reach.
The neatness of Barthes’ screenplay is that it centers itself on two people learning to negotiate with a technology-first world and come to compromises where possible. Rachel and Alvy’s relationship is held together by Clarke and Ejiofor’s chemistry while their characters interrogate the complexity of the Pod. In that sense, The Pod Generation is remarkably clean in its intent and uses Rachel and Alvy’s relationship as an anchor to navigate its more high-concept ideas.
Unfortunately, that’s also the major issue with Barthes’ screenplay. It’s neat and sterile to a point, but every time it introduces a new idea that raises more questions about the world created, it drops it just as quickly. Littered with loose threads, the final act undoes the solid world-building that came before and makes its potential even more squandered by picking a definitive endpoint as opposed to one that feels natural to the questions raised by characters and the world alike. The Pod Generation is so consumed with imagining what the pregnancy would be like if there was no physical pregnancy that it never goes beyond the surface of each new problem. Clean fixes and ignoring incongruities are common characteristics of the screenplay.
There’s an endearing relationship at its core, but The Pod Generation fails to include any struggle. It’s slightly satirical in its depiction of a reality connected to technology, but it’s never funny. Every problem is ignored or has a temporary band-aid placed on it, removing any sense of stakes. It’s an aggressively safe film that attempts to navigate a slippery slope. The glossy exterior is a hiding spot rather than a place for meaningful discussion. Like the pod, the film carries an important conversation but doesn’t have the potential to imagine beyond its shell.