A sharp relationship satire that proves the more things change, the more they stay the same, Sophie Barthes’ The Pod Generation imagines a world of, to borrow Aaron Bastani’s idea, Fully Automated Luxury Communism. Are there poor people in this imagined futuristic world of the United States? (We can only identify the country because there’s a post office visit later in the film.) Perhaps. The film does include a world beyond the city where people actually live in nature, rather than hermetically-sealed smart homes where toast is 3D-printed to your desired crispness. It’s a hell of a clean, sterile, fully automated city, one that looks as if the film’s production team (Clem Price Thomas, Stephan Rubens, and Marion Michel) had the run of an Ikea.
A film that might signal a world to come if the masters of the universe have their way, in Barthes’ futuristic city, nature and therapy have been made obsolete thanks to the pods and the all-knowing robotic Eliza therapist. Childbirth has also been disrupted thanks to the Womb Center’s “optimized in utero” option allowing a simulated experience for the wealthy and powerful with none of the stretch marks.
Enter tech executive Rachel (Emilia Clarke), who’s encouraged by her boss to have a child but also to compartmentalize the experience. Her status being too valuable to let her languish on a waitlist, she’s able to jump the line after some phone calls are made––much to the dismay of her husband Alvy (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a professor and a botanist who spends his time convincing students to try a real fig ripe off the vine. An actual greenhouse is rare, despite the prevalence of oxygen bars throughout the city.
After going through with the pod birth, Rachel and Alvy find themselves experiencing all the stages of parenting. When Rachel is expected to lean in more at work and is told having her pod in the office makes people feel uncomfortable, the reluctant Alvy starts bonding by exposing his child to the making of the wonders of the simulated outdoors. The film is full of close calls, including a mysterious color code to the pod’s docking station that causes the kind of fear we’ve all experienced with consumer electronics.
Smart and perceptive, The Pod Generation is more than a one-note big-tech satire, despite including a Bezos-esque head of Pegasus, the parent company of the Womb Center who makes his intentions clear to colonize Mars. Clarke and Ejiofor are often hilarious as they navigate different parenting styles and opinions on how they should raise their child. Barthes also tackles larger existential questions around dreaming and humanity, asking what we’re willing to give up, outsource, improve via over-the-air updates, or sign away our rights to via terms and conditions while also calling out absurd contradictory politics embedded in the notion that the “the womb is a political issue,” as spoken multiple times in the film. This, of course, wouldn’t matter without the comedy of manners Clarke and Eljofor engage in as the stress of “what to expect when you’re expecting” is increased when nature’s original 3D printer is upgraded with more customization.
The Pod Generation premiered at Sundance 2023.