Child-Bearers is a dystopian short film from director-writer Sasha Nelson. Ruthie (Fox Varian) is a teen living in a warped future version of the United States. Science and critical thinking have gone out the window in favor of conspiracy theory and superstition that paves the way for expanding the power of the patriarchy with similarities to The Handmaid’s Tale. She is forced to pretend she is a boy in order not to be arrested and brought to a conversion (concentration) camp.
The ostensible reason given is that men have come to believe that female rage sparks a destructive supernatural ability in women that could be dangerous to men. This notion disregards the fact, of course, that women with such abilities in an environment designed to provoke them to rage could easily overcome and subdue their jailers. Once incarcerated, the women are “re-educated” and released back to society in purely domestic roles. Ruthie does not believe that women actually have supernatural abilities and is frustrated that her mother was taken away.
Ruthie is smart, well-spoken, and not afraid to fight for what she believes in, as long as it means she doesn’t get caught. Her father, Mark (Nicolas Greco), assists his daughter in pretending to be a boy to avoid being taken. Still, even he has drunk the Kool-Aid about women having superpowers based on their emotions and begins to fear her. He goes so far as to suggest she should turn herself in. The situation comes to an inflection point the day a U.S. officer named John (Chris Myers) comes to the house for a random inspection and interrogates Ruthie.
“…men have come to believe that female rage sparks a destructive supernatural ability in women…”
The classic style of dystopian films, like those that became popular during the Cold War, is sorely missed these days, and Nelson captures that sense perfectly in Child-Bearers. He has also packed many ideas and narratives into the 15-minute runtime, including a jolting twist at the end. The film’s primary conceit is that society has come to this as a result of censorship of books and general knowledge. The government set cultural guidelines designed to consolidate power instead of for the general good of society. Of course, we are seeing this happening right now with conservative movements to ban books across the U.S.
It has benefited a growing oligarchical class for curated ignorance to become cool in this country, and that has been going on for a couple of generations. They have succeeded wildly. Dumb is seen as cool. Not everyone is buying into it, but enough people do that the educated portion of the middle class is diminishing. In contrast, everyone dreams of a sports scholarship or a lottery win. The notion of contributing to an improved society through service to each other is giving way to a “get mine, screw you” individualism that has eroded our sense of compassion for our neighbors and fellow Americans. There is no sense of shared fate in this country now.
Child-Bearers is amateurish in execution and a bit ham-handed and on-the-nose with title cards that spell out the message about censorship. But that does, in fact, work to its advantage in getting the point across. The performances are solid, as is the film craft. The overall vibe feels like one of the fictional commercials in Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers. Bravo to Sasha Nelson for bringing this entertaining warning-as-a-film to receptive viewers.
"…bravo to Sasha Nelson..."