Thursday, August 10, 2023

Sophie Bartes’ The Pod Generation

Don't call them test tube babies. They come from pods, at least they do if their parents have sufficient resources for stress-free pregnancies. There are still people who prefer to do things the old-fashioned way, but Rachel Novy does not think she is one of them. Yet, her pod-pregnancy starts to change her perspective in screenwriter-director Sophie Bartes’ The Pod Generation, which opens tomorrow in New York.

Rachel Novy is an online marketing consultant, while her husband Alvy is a botanist. That definitely means she is the one who makes all their money. Seriously, in this near-ish future, botany is almost a lost science, since most plants are synthetic or computer generated. As you might suspect, he is also the one who is skeptical of the pod process, but she signs up anyway.

At first, he is a bit out of sorts she made this decision without him, but he accepts and steadily warms to the idea. In fact, he is the one who bonds with the incubation pod they carry home. Ironically, she starts experiencing the sort of fevered dreams associated with traditional pregnancy. Much to her surprise, she also develops a new-found appreciation for the genuine and the natural.

Talky films can interesting. Fortunately,
Pod Generation is one of them. Admittedly, the arc of Barthes’ narrative is a bit flat, but she raises some heavy issues regarding science, nature, and authenticity. Her ostensive subject is motherhood, which is a big theme in itself, but a lot of the points the film raises could apply to topics.

It is also worth noting getting the right look for
Pod Generation was almost as important to its success as it was for the Barbie movie, but it had a tiny fraction of that monstrosity’s budget. Production designer Clement Price-Thomas and art director Stephan Rubens convincingly create an ambiguously near-future world that feels slick and affluent, but also somewhat cold and impersonal.

Chiwetel Ejiofor is also terrific as Alvy, who is an old soul in a brave new world. Ejiofor does not overplay his hand though. His performance makes him reasonable rather than insufferable. (It is easy to imagine
Sleeper could be an inspiration for Pod, so you have to wonder if Alvy is hat-tip to Alvy Singer in Annie Hall). Regardless, it is easy to believe he and Rachel are a couple. Emilia Clarke is also interesting as Rachel, but it is a slow character evolution that you must stick with to get her pay-off.

Pod Generation is both science fiction and comedy, but there is probably not enough of either to satisfy mass market consumers of either genre. It is a speculative social satire, pretty well done. Recommended for its cerebral vibe, The Pod Generation opens tomorrow (8/11) in New York at the Angelika Film Center.