Set in the future, the Earth has become severely polluted (people need to wear breathing masks when outside) with severe overpopulation affecting available resources. Because of the permanent thick smog that has settled over the dismal cities that now cover the Earth’s entire surface, all animals – even common household pets - are extinct; people eat tasteless bright-colored paste out of plastic containers. To reduce the world's population, the world's government decrees that no children may be conceived for the next 30 years. Breaking this law will result in a death penalty for both the parents as well as the newborn. Brainwashing and robot substitutes are used to end the yearning for children with the death penalty as the ultimate deterrent, by being placed under a plastic dome and suffocated to death. Couples of child-bearing age visit "Babyland" and are given life-size animatronic children instead.
Russ (Oliver Reed) and Carol McNeil (Geraldine Chaplin) work in a museum recreating life in the 20th century. Carol, is desperate for a child and when she conceives she avoids the abortion machine installed in their bathroom to remain pregnant. After the child's birth, the couple must shield the baby from being discovered. Once Carol decides to break the law and have a baby, they must not only avoid the prying eyes of the Big Brother-like government, but also the growing jealousy of their own friends. Neighbors finding a couple with a real child will go into the streets screaming "baby baby," until authorities show up.
When neighbours George (Don Gordon) and Edna Borden (Diane Cilento) find out about the baby, their initial offer to help conceal the baby leads quickly to trouble. Jealousy and envy arises as the Bordens want to share the baby as if it is a new car. The McNeils and the Bordens begin to fight over the baby and the Bordens then seek to keep the child for themselves. Finally the McNeils are captured and placed under one of the state's execution domes, but the couple, along with the baby, manage to escape by digging into the underground, making their way through darkened tunnels in a raft to a remote island where the pollution isn't so bad.
The film was made from an original screenplay by Frank De Felitta and Max Ehrlich, inspired by Paul Ehrlich's The Population Bomb. A year prior to the film's release, Max Ehrlich published the science fiction novel, The Edict, based on the screenplay.
In the novel, the earth's resources have been strained to the limit, and in many parts of the world cannibalism and food riots are commonplace. Seeking a solution to this crisis, the leaders of WorldGov meet in emergency session. Their computers spin through billions of facts, and the reports are more than disquieting - they are chilling. Further growth of the population is unthinkable, and the leaders finally settle on the only possible solution, which is soon announced by the World Gov satellite:
"All citizens stand by. This is an edict from WorldGov. In the interest of balancing the population, and preserving the food supply, the birth of any baby is forbidden for the next thirty years. Any man and woman who conceive and have a child during that period will be put to death by the State. Any child conceived will be considered an outlaw child, and will also be liquidated. There will be constant surveillance by StatePol and a large reward in extra calories for any citizen who reports the presence of an outlaw child. That is all."
To give the world some semblance of normalcy, realistic mechanical babies are devised to pacify the maternal instincts of 10 billion women. But to Carole Evans, the very idea of accepting one of the robot infants is abhorrent. She wants and needs a real child, and this slowly becomes an obsession.Oliver Reed as Russ McNeil
Geraldine Chaplin as Carol McNeil
Don Gordon as George Borden
Diane Cilento as Edna Borden
Derek Meddings created the life-size, realistic animatronic children for the film.
Geraldine Chaplin won Best Actress at the 1972 Sitges Film Festival for her performance.