It is possible to make a futuristic film with an intriguing premise, great worldbuilding, and no real sense of its implications. Take Sophie Barthes’s Sundance feature The Pod Generation, which takes a far too safe road to what could await us in our seductive corporate future of convenience.
The Pod Generation is by no means a journey that’s brought to us sans emotions, talent, and plenty of cool toys as Rachel (Emilia Clarke) and Alvy (Chiwetel Ejiofor) decide to become parents by opting into the latest technological method. And because it’ll look good on Rachel’s resume, which could translate to a stellar promotion. She’d clearly choose to get pregnant and give birth the old-fashioned way rather than via pregnancy pods that act as detachable wombs. With apps. But business is business, and this is what will please the overlords, so bring on the pod people.
Where Barthes herself stands is clear, with Rachel frequently imagining herself with a belly that actually looks big and uncomfortable, only without any weight gain, which might risk Clarke looking realistically pregnant and possibly distracting viewers from her layered and conflicted performance as a woman who finds herself in a feature spawned from The White Lotus and Black Mirror with lower stakes.
“Anything natural might look incredibly unnatural in a home where HAL was long ago tamed…”
Anything natural might look incredibly unnatural in a home where HAL was long ago tamed and programmed to simulate warm and considerate human interaction. Rachel’s work at the latest dominant company in big tech means she’s at the forefront of all the new AI, which is replacing humans at an accelerated rate, but it earns her one of those cushy New York apartments at the moment.
Clearly, The Pod Generation is a feature set amongst a population firmly ensconced in the elite, which tends to flatten race and much of the economic ramifications for the white woman at its center. Such women tend to have a partner of colour whose presence embodies a certain kind of modern man, emotional but still recognizably masculine enough for audiences to take seriously.
Ejiofor more than fits the bill as a botanist whose devotion to nature and the natural in general makes him a reluctant participant in an AI-guided birth process, but whose schedule nevertheless allows him to bond with the pod quickly, whereas Rachel’s status as primary breadwinner leads her to become far more detached and outright question just where she stands in her growing family.
“It’s not all gloom, though, since The Pod Generation is hopeful that a family can be salvaged despite everything.”
Credit should go to Barthes for refusing to make the world of The Pod Generation an outright dystopia. Instead, we find a layered and complex concept with beautiful works of art inspired by nature that have been commodified to such a degree that people disregard the real thing for pods which are utterly seductive in their recreation of green, simulated calm in an increasingly demanding world. What this means for the planet itself is mostly left unsaid, but at least we have Succession and Watchmen cinematographer Andrij Parekh to make the most of each and every stunning locale, while production designer Clement Price-Thomas lends even the coldest and whitest of interior spaces a kind of intimacy.
But the personal overwhelm the political to such a degree that even Rachel’s weird pregnancy-themed dreams become so pointed that it waters down the very themes The Pod Generation is attempting to satire. It’s not all gloom, though, since The Pod Generation is hopeful that a family can be salvaged despite everything. That is if you have the connections and bank account to afford a house away from it all, where even the promises of big tech can transform a pod into a baby.
Yet the outright refusal to follow up on the implications of throwaway lines, such as the government no longer funding education and to leave dissent to a single glimpse of a “radical feminists” protest, all but guarantees that self-satisfaction wins out. Throw in a fundamental misunderstanding of nature which only includes benevolence, and it’s left to indie fare such as the quietly powerful 2015 film Advantageous to explore the ramifications of this brave new world truly.