Rachel (Emilia Clarke) and Alvy (Chiwetel Ejiofor) are a married couple living in the not-so-distant future. Rachel is an ambitious employee at her tech company, the breadwinner of the couple. Alvy is a passionate botanist, teaching the uninterested youth about nature while grasping onto the traditionalism of connecting with the physical world rather than the technological one.
The world has moved on, preferring nature pods within homes, AI therapists, and artificial wombs. As Rachel and Alvy decide to have a child, to leave Rachel’s work and body unaffected by pregnancy, they opt for the sought-after Womb Center, a service of tech giant Pegasus that provides the wealthy with detachable pods to grow their babies. Yet throughout the process, Alvy and Rachel’s philosophies regarding the technology butt heads.
“The Pod Generation” is thoughtful and timely but flat, an opaque expression of an overly simple thesis. As AI advances, humans distance themselves from the natural world, possessing a penchant for convenience over connection. Rachel and Alvy are stark foils of one another, so much so that neither truly feels like a natural character. Every line in the script feels written blatantly intended to get the point across, to drive home a sentiment. In turn, every conversation is forced.
Barthes’ film does make a valiant effort to showcase technological progression versus intervention across the entire culture of this new world, from domestic squabbles to capitalist nightmare characters like Linda (Rosalie Craig), the head woman in charge of the Womb Center. Humanity plummets with over-commercialization and detachment in compassionate roles like motherhood and therapy.
Pegasus’ pseudo-feminist rhetoric that the pods save women from job interference and the oh-so-horrifying bodily changes is another thoughtful inclusion showing that capitalism and humanity never intersect. However, these ideas are explored with a stark script rather than emotional expression, so every statement is absorbed intellectually but never emotionally. The tension between Rachel and Alvy is inauthentic, like a prop for a main idea rather than an empathetic cornerstone it posits to be.
Clarke and Ejiofor are as dejected as the film itself. Though the script doesn’t afford them much to work with other than a checklist of dialogue that seems to check that the audience is grasping the premise incessantly, no chemistry between them would lead us to believe they’re a couple, even with philosophical issues aside.
“The Pod Generation” trucks forward like a long hike, with wide-eyed introductory ambition that quickly turns to a tired drag to the finish line. The set design and cinematography are the film’s only grounding aspects. This new but near world has a dystopian beauty in its landscape, but it doesn’t save the film from being a middling attempt at a pointed social dossier. Barthes’ film has potential but simply feels like an idea in its early stages.
Now playing in theaters.