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Baby Talk

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Courtesy of Sundance Institute

MOVIE REVIEW
The Pod Generation (2023)

Into this moment of tension over reproductive rights lands "The Pod Generation," a gentle sci-fi satire of parental unease that isn't toothless but wants to try mediation and understanding rather than scream at anyone in anger. Whether this is actually a failing, or bad timing, or just a missed opportunity might depend on the eye of the beholder along with their feelings about the set of reproductive organs lower down; but it does produce a film skirting around the full nature of its own topic at a safe distance so as not to get singed.

In the future world of Rachel (Emilia Clarke) and Alvy (Chiwetel Ejiofor), where voice-activated A.I. assistants do all the hard work and a laser grills your toast, aspirational would-be mothers can offload the whole pregnancy drag onto the Womb Corporation, 1-800-WOMB, which puts your fertilized ovum into a large plastic egg for nine months of incubation. As long as they tend to this portable device with the scheduled maintenance, like a prenatal tamagotchi, mothers-to-be can go about their unchanged lives and careers, having it all. At Rachel's work, women bringing their Wombs to the office are encouraged to leave them in the company nursery - a cupboard.

Alvy, though, is unsettled. A botanist, so a man of the organic dirt and soil, he wants people to reconnect with nature to better understand themselves, and a mass-produced womb does not fit the bill. Feminists are unhappy too, protesting outside the Womb Corporation and calling for science to leave their wombs alone. Women carrying natural babies and women whose babies are gestating in a device on the table meet and mingle, eyeing each other's privilege warily. Alvy starts to come round to the idea, while Rachel becomes unnerved that she's going to be a mother without having sat the final exam.

Filmed in Belgium and nudging gently into some potent ideas, the film flirts with some cool Low Countries detachment alongside mild slapstick. "Alvy" is a very Woody Allen character name, as you recall when Mr. Ejiofor tries to carry more high-tech Wombs than his arms can hold. In Sophie Barthes script men are only needed for the whole Womb process when the parents want a boy; if no Y chromosome is required then the father can just stay home, although what happens if the parents are same-sex isn't mentioned. Children's education has been abandoned, the government having stopped paying for it. Instead, companies prepare kids for the coming Singularity when A.I. will handle everything. In art class, A.I. makes the art and the children just give feedback, a concept to rattle parents and unpaid art critics alike.

It's mentioned in passing that kids birthed from a Womb do not dream, a notion the film trusts will land without being pointed at. You could read the entire movie as piling unnatural sufferings onto children as a metaphor for their whole collapsing future, rather than being specifically about women's wombs at all. While you're wondering about all that, Kathryn Hunter, the unmistakable performer who was all the witches in Joel Coen's "The Tragedy of Macbeth" and the gnomic mother in "Andor," turns up for five seconds and one throwaway line, as if the actor happened to be holidaying in the vicinity. No film with her in it has lost faith in organic spontaneity just yet.

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