In a future world, human reproduction is made a capital offense. [ Zero Population Growth credits: Dir: Michael Campus/ Oliver Reed, Geraldine Chaplin, Don Gordon/ 95 min/ SciFi-Fantasy, Drama/ Reproductive Liberty]
“Childbearing is herewith forbidden. The conception of a child shall be the gravest of crimes, punishable by death. Women now pregnant will report to local hospitals for registration. I earnestly request your cooperation in this effort, to assure the last hope for survival of the human race.” With those words is announced the government’s answer to “overpopulation” in the future world projected here.
This world is a bleak, centrally planned place. The air is polluted, food is in short supply, and people are afraid to say what they think. Of course, such could be said of various socialist countries even today. Certainly the former communist bloc has been revealed to be impoverished and polluted, and China in particular has been so aggressive in discouraging reproduction that in some parts of the country babies are reported to be routinely killed. But the connection between state control and social ills is never made explicit in this film, so it’s up to the viewer to decide whether “overpopulation” is really the root cause of what ails this projected future or something else.
In any case, the couple at the center of this story wants to have a baby, and the plot is highly sympathetic to their struggle against the law. As it happens, they work in a museum that houses twentieth century artifacts and hence are intimately familiar with how prosperous and free life once was. Such familiarity makes accepting all the state-mandated restrictions they live under just that much harder. The wife gets pregnant, and rather than turn herself over to an abortion center, as mandated, she hides the pregnancy from all but her husband and gives birth secretly. However, despite the minutest precautions, the couple and baby are soon caught and sentenced to death. Their only hope is escape.
Zero Population Growth is dated in many ways, and it often has a low-budget flavor. But it’s nonetheless interesting thanks to an imaginative story. I especially liked the concept of “Babyland,” a sort of cross between the DMV and a maternity ward; here, young couples stand in long lines waiting to get a mechanical baby to fill the emotional void in their lives resulting from the ban on reproduction. In fact, getting a mechanical baby even entitles them to a larger apartment! The absurdity of that last touch makes the whole story eerily credible. This film is likely to be of special interest to fans of classic sci-fi. Also listed as Z.P.G.