This article is part of the Fantasy Science & Coffee column on Film Inquiry
Infertility as a Storyline
Rising infertility in fictional dystopian societies is a fairly common, captivating, albeit gloomy, basis for a story. The unfortunate reality is that fertility rates really do appear to be on a decline, as can be seen in this World Bank report. There are conflicting studies about the why. For instance, it is still unclear whether modern technology and common household chemicals play a role, but the trend appears to be very real.
My purpose here is not to address this real life problem – though I’ve linked to a few articles at the end that may start the inquisitive journey for the curious reader – but to look at a few fascinating ways fertility has been treated in different phenomenal fiction stories. Let’s take a look, shall we?
The Handmaid’s Tale (2017-)
We, naturally, have to start off with The Handmaid’s Tale. The whole premise of this astounding book-turned-tv series by Margaret Atwood is a diminishing population. Fertility is at an unnerving low due to consequences of our modern civilization like pollution and radioactivity. The United States of America, now the Republic of Gilead, basically turns the few fertile women who are left into breeding machines – properties of the masters trying to impregnate them. This is all done behind the facade of piety.
The fertile women are dressed in red and called Handmaids, moving from one home to another, forced to make babies for each family along the way. I’ve both read the book and seen the series, and I find them to be true works of art, not only due to the aesthetics and three-dimensional characters, but the representation of various very real issues that exist today. The whole solution for a diminishing population is absolutely disgusting, but undeniably a stroke of storytelling genius on Atwood’s part.
Children of Men (2006)
Children of Men demonstrates potential ramifications of infertility in a world in which those alive are the last generation, in which the last successful birth was 18 years prior; a planet without the laughter of children. Since there’s no future, the whole world is rife with anger and war. The worst part about it all is that it is entirely believable. The film ends before a solution is found, but it ends on a note of hope: the one woman who has miraculously given birth is found by friendly faces, rather than being swept up and used as a political pawn.
On a side note: I live in a family-filled apartment society, and one of the most common daily sounds I hear is that of children playing outside. I can’t tell you the number of times I was jolted awake from a perfect afternoon nap when the film Frozen first came out; it seemed every child in my neighbourhood was participating in a public song competition. After watching this film, I don’t think I’ll mind being awoken by a screaming, off-key Let it Go again.
The Aschen from Stargate SG-1 (1997-2007)
Those of you who are Stargate fans might remember a fascinating race of humans from the TV series, SG-1, called the Aschen. The way the show writers use infertility in Aschen-based stories is incredibly interesting. We meet this advanced race in Season 4 Episode 16 and Season 5 Episode 10.
The Aschen befriend the humans on Earth, offering their superior technology and medicine. It’s soon discovered, however, that the Aschen doctors are misleading people. While it’s true that all known sickness has been eradicated, one infertility is dangerously and unknowingly on the rise. It turns out that the Aschen conquer planets insidiously, by causing the local population to die out through infertility. How exceptionally clever.
Brave New World (1998)
We must, of course, chat about Aldous Huxley’s novel-turned-film Brave New World . It depicts a so-called utopian society in which population is completely regulated. There are different classes of people, each of whom have a specific purpose in society. Humans are not born through natural means, but as clones in the lab. The top tiers, Alpha and Beta, are almost unique individuals with “important” jobs. The Gamma, Delta, and Epsilon classes are mass cloned through the Bokanovsky Process, and are created for what they feel are lower class jobs with subpar intelligence. While Brave New World doesn’t specifically discuss infertility, the manner in which the population is created and controlled is extremely fascinating as a storyline, and I had to include it!
I’d like to open this article up to discussion. The way fertility is treated in fiction is something I find absolutely fascinating. What do you think of how fertility is treated in the above examples? Are there any other exceptional stories you can think of out there? Those of you who love to tell stories: how would you incorporate fertility in your fictional societies?
More to Explore
The Guardian: Sperm counts among western men have halved in last 40 years – study (2017)
The Guardian: The infertility crisis is beyond doubt. Now scientists must find the cause (2017)
World Health Organization: Global prevalence of infertility, infecundity and childlessness (2012)