Many times while watching The Pod Generation, I was tempted to shut it off; the story felt more like a lecture than a film script. Plus, the people in it – from the main characters to those with one line and no credits – were annoying.
But then I stuck with it to find out how it ended and see if writer/director Sophie Barthes (Madame Bovary) would add a little depth to the proceedings by giving the audience a reason behind what they were watching—a reason to care about what was happening.
I’m sorry I did because none of that happened.
The Pod Generation stars Emelia Clarke and Chiwetel Ejiofor as Rachel and Alvy Novy, a wealthy couple who manage to score a place at the local government-controlled Reproductive Center where they can make a child in a lab without any of the mess or pain of making one the old fashion way through intercourse. She provides the ovum, he provides the sperm, and the resulting fertilized embryo is put in a giant plastic egg until it’s fully formed. While in the egg, the parents and the government can program the growing fetus to be a good citizen.
Barthes packs her film with nature vs. nurture imagery. The parents are opposites – she’s a corporate climber psyched to have her baby bred in the egg, and he’s a college naturalist and caretaker for the campus greenhouse who constantly worries that his child will grow up with no idea what nature is. Their beliefs start strong but switch back and forth as the due date arrives, although the reasons for their flip-flopping remain unclear. Even their computer therapist – a giant eyeball in a wall – can’t help sort it out.
Beyond the baby egg and the eyeball therapist, The Pod Generation brims with strange imagery of AI taking over the world that Rachel and Alvy live in. A disembodied voice constantly comments on their physical and emotional status; another eyeball on a stand always watches them. They have some human interaction, but their friends have all drunk the Kool-Aid regarding how science has improved their lives.
Barthes creates a scary world, but she leaves out the one factor that would make The Pod Generation resonate off the screen: Why? Why are babies being created in the lab like this? Women still get pregnant; Rachel meets one in the pool’s locker room, where they swim. Is it simply a wealthy couple’s privilege? A government program to build better human beings? Is the world in such bad shape that egg babies will soon be the only way for humankind to continue?
Who knows, and as you watch the pampered Rachel and Alvy scramble to give their egg baby a better life, who cares? There is one brief scene of a group of women protesting outside the egg clinic, carrying ‘leave our wombs alone’ signs, but it feels more like something added in post-production than an integral part of the story. The protests are there, but there is no follow-up or attempt to explain why. It’s a missed opportunity for Barthes to add depth to her otherwise shallow story.