The Pod Generation and the Meaning of Apocalypse

One of the scariest movies I’ve seen in a long time. (Film poster from IMDb)

I watched a new sci-fi romantic comedy a few weeks back, The Pod Generation, in which the messy business of giving birth has been outsourced to plastic, detachable artificial wombs (pods). A couple is ready to give birth and the wife, a busy social influencer manager, wants the convenient option. The husband, a botanist who values the natural way of things, wants to have an old-fashioned baby.

But many arguments later, his love for his wife trumps his values and the pod baby is conceived (and subsidized by the wife’s employer, which sees this as a way to minimize lost productivity).

That’s the movie I watched with my wife. But when she went to bed, I relaxed with some Walking Dead. I know that sounds ridiculous, but the emotional tension of navigating through an eco-disconnected world with Gaian values made watching The Pod Generation difficult.

I hope that’s the point: that the writer of The Pod Generation was trying to reveal the future we’re heading toward and how it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Some reasons to suggest she was:

  • People paid for oxygen breaks in the park.
  • People bought time in nature pods (which are still mostly screens of beautiful nature time, and a couch and some potted plants).1
  • Toast was 3D printed rather than made from baked bread.
  • The young people who were all afraid to taste a fig freshly picked from a tree (that was hand pollinated by the botanist because the pollinator wasp had gone extinct).
  • The constant chatter of AI Alexa-type voices who not only assist you but manipulate you in how to think and feel about the world.2

So, for me, this felt more dystopian than a depopulated wasteland where zombies roam free (especially watching these back to back). At least in zombie-future, people were growing food, building with their hands, solving problems, and living “human” lives, rather than mediated ones. Unlike zombie-future, pod-future also feels scarily possible—a death by a thousand cuts where one innovation brings about another and another, until we’re completely separated from nature and no longer even able to realize what we lost (like the ecophobic students so effectively portrayed).3

Give me zombies any day.

As long as there’s a good community of support to go with it…. (The Walking Dead show poster from TV Insider)

Apocalyptic Rebirth

While halfway through the film (it took many nights to get through it!), I joined a Religion and Urban Ecology conference where one of the participants reminded the audience that apocalyptic thinking is ‘as much about remaking the world as it is about the world ending.’

That’s an excellent point, and helped me process why The Walking Dead feels so homey, so okay (even if so constantly horrific). People are back in a reality of interdependence, of working together to survive and create something good. Sure, there are monsters all around them (and few would choose that reality over a safe, comfortable, techno-mediated one, including me) but somehow it feels more meaningful and joyful to build than to consume, even if life and death are separated by just one unsuspecting chomp.4

The true horror of The Pod Generation is that it’s hard to imagine how humans return to nature after their nearly complete subjugation to technology.5 Worse, as the film progresses, the couple (and viewers) discover that one of the side effects of pod births is that those babies don’t dream. While there’s huge opportunity to explore what the effects of this could be—on children’s psychology, on society, on human civilization—the film artfully sidesteps that and instead commodifies the lack, with the pod sales representative offering their latest product, Dream Pods, which can provide simple comforting dreams to the baby (programmed, of course, by the company).

While the film ends happily, with the couple running away to their extremely posh island home—clearly this whole thing is very much a rich couple problem—and delivering the baby “naturally” (breaking the pod open instead of handing it over for delivery). But the story ends there, and the new parents will surely return to their mediated world, most likely sending their child to AI-moderated daycare in too few months and continuing the cycle of nature alienation for another generation.6

Yes, their baby won’t be bitten by a zombie, but perhaps he doesn’t need to be bit to become one.

A legion of future zombies, waiting to hatch? (Still from The Pod Generation)


1) What they were watching was eerily similar to what prisoners watched when given nature time on screens in this documentary, Blue Room.

2) One example: the woman protagonist, Rachel, is challenged by her AI therapist that ‘you wouldn’t say you’re going to your artificial therapist, why would you think you’re having an artificial baby?’

3) And even more so, the women who decide that outsourcing their babies show. Interestingly feminists were originally pro-pod in the movie (according to the couple), but toward the end a feminist group is outside the pod facility protesting the technology, chanting “No pods! Leave our wombs alone!” and holding signs like “Augmented mother = Diminished mother” and “Womb Center = Biophobia.” Sometimes it’s only when we lose something do we discover its true worth.

4) Surely one of the reasons why the formation of ecovillages (even more than their perpetuation) is so attractive.

5) Miraculously, there was no sign of climate change or the other converging ecological problems disrupting society. Even biodiversity loss seemed to be just an inconvenience. Where they were getting the natural services human society depends on for its survival was conveniently ignored.

6) Assuming the baby survived. In an example of modeling dangerous behaviors in film, the baby was sleeping with his head on a big fluffy pillow, a suffocation risk that perhaps these new parents didn’t know about (and hopefully that isn’t inadvertently conveyed to movie viewers as a safe practice).

Share this Reflection:

  1. Venkataraman Amarnath

    …one of the participants reminded the audience that apocalyptic thinking is ‘as much about remaking the world as it is about the world ending.’

    That is precisely advocated in the book:
    Wes Jackson and Robert Jensen.  An Inconvenient Apocalypse: Environmental Collapse, Climate Crisis, and the Fate of Humanity

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *