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Normal Pregnancy Is Out, Artificial App-Controlled Wombs Are In (Maybe)

By Sara Clements | Film | August 15, 2023 |

By Sara Clements | Film | August 15, 2023 |


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What if you wanted to have children but they could grow in detachable, artificial wombs? For women who want children but can’t carry them on their own or simply don’t want to, that seems like a dream. According to Sophie Barthes’ science fiction film, The Pod Generation, a world where that is a possibility isn’t far off from reality — but it’s not as satisfactory as imagined.

Rachel (Emilia Clarke) often has dreams about motherhood, whether these dreams see her cradling her pregnant belly or carrying her child along the beach. However, as a successful woman in the corporate world, pregnancy can mean missed opportunities or advancement at work, so why not have a baby in an artificial womb? It seems like the perfect plan, but one she has to initiate on her own for fear of what her husband, Alvy (Chiwetel Ejiofor), will think. He wants a “natural” child and Rachel keeps him in the dark at first about being waitlisted at the Womb Center, a clinic run by a tech giant that offers couples the opportunity to have their fetus grow in a pod. However, Alvy does come around as the couple is sold the idea that the artificial womb pods are built to improve the life of both mother and child. The mother can still care for her fetus but through an app equipped with music playlists and food selection. As Rachel’s friend points out, it’s the first time that women aren’t the “victim of biology.” What seems perfect always has complications, and as the baby’s due date nears, the situation grows increasingly worrisome.

Alvy represents a contemporary viewer who hasn’t been able to adapt to the fast-moving development in AI. As a botany professor, he’s one of the few who doesn’t see nature as a commodity, but as part of life. Everything turning artificial, even plants becoming holograms, is hard for him to adapt to, but Rachel would be a futurist audience, one who has embraced what the world has to offer technologically. While their beliefs shift throughout the film, their relationship demonstrates, while not on a very deep level, the tug and pull between technology and nature and what the replacement of one for the other does to people.

The Pod Generation , now out in theatres, is a slow-moving picture. Nothing is happening most of the time, but depending on the viewer, this may or may not hinder the experience. What succeeds in capturing the audience’s attention, first and foremost, is Clement Price-Thomas’s production design. It’s spectacular in its modern simplicity while still highlighting the evolution of AI and the use of “smart” everything in our lives. However, it’s not a film that aims at making you think an AI-controlled world would be without its flaws - “Alexa” can still burn your 3D-printed toast. In this futuristic version of New York City, you never have to leave its hustle and bustle because there are nature pods where you can breathe in fresh air from plants and surround yourself with images and sounds of the ocean. And who needs a human therapist who understands the spectrum of human emotion when you can just have an AI one with no consciousness?

The film’s subject matter seems ridiculous but also terrifying in its feeling of familiarity — like we’re not too far off from this reality. There’s a lot of awkwardness in the satirical humor around the whole pod baby process - watching the fertilization on a screen is like horses racing at the derby. Perhaps this awkward tone is intended to make the audience realize how nuts a reality like this would actually be. The nature versus artificial battle the film is trying to convey, unfortunately, isn’t evoked with much strength. Quotes like “let nature decide,” in response to choosing their baby’s gender, or “nature knows best” and “as intended by nature” are very contradictory with our characters’ decisions, but we don’t see them really grappling with that on a deep level. Its most powerful observation ends up being about how women’s bodies will still be controlled by the corporate greed of high-demand businesses. But even then, it never evokes the sense of dread it needs for a truly impactful vision of our future.