The future as depicted in Lapsis looks pretty much like the present, but just a little worse. Its protagonist, Ray (Dean Imperial), works a dead-end delivery job and cares for a younger brother with chronic fatigue syndrome. He’s sideswiped off the information super-highway when a new quantum computer program renders obsolete all previous software.
Distrustful of a world he no longer understands, Ray is too old to fit in and too young (and penniless) to retire. When his shady friend Felix (James McDaniel) offers to lance him into grunt work for a high-tech company, Ray agrees. He wants to earn enough to pay for experimental treatment of his brother’s condition.
Released in 2020, Lapsis is among the best American indie films of recent years. Writer-director Noah Hutton works astutely with low-budget location shots and a screenplay that explains this near future without bogging down or digressing. Ray is like the film’s audience, continually needing to be brought up to speed. Special effects in this ostensibly science-fiction film? Just those creepy automated cable-laying vehicles that suggest mechanical insects as they proceed, low to the ground on spindly legs. The future in Lapsis is as matter of fact and banal as everyday life in our own time.
Ray is one in an army of “cablers” stringing fiber optic cables across the world in the tightening web of the quantum computer network. He clings at first to his frayed belief in the American Dream of hard work rewarded. In reality, he’s an expendable cog in a gig economy, without health insurance or benefits, continually prodded to “set new personal bests.” The cabler workers are competing, not so much with each other but with themselves, to reach ever rising metrics of productivity. Will the coworker he encounters while laying cable in the woods of upstate New York, Anna (Madeline Wise), awaken him to the injustice? Or will he continue to bungle along, the half-willing slave of an incomprehensible technology governed by arbitrary rules?
The corporate-speak radiating from CABLR, the colossal monopoly behind quantum computing, is polished to a knife’s gleam. CABLR claims commitment to “core values” and to “always do the right thing.” They offer low-paid jobs promising “flexibility” and the opportunity to “challenge your status quo.” The slogans and the purring voices from devices in every hand coalesce into the smiling face of dehumanization.
A mystery drives the story forward. Like all of his coworkers, Ray is given a username. His is Lapsis Beeftech, and he finds that the name was previously used by a person roundly despised by fellow cablers. He will eventually learn the reason why.
Lapsis glances sideways at neuroscience, robotics, the high cost of health care and the desperate impoverishment of the middle class as it satirizes the gig economy and Silicon Valley monopolies. A wry sense of comedy lifts the drama as Hutton’s dialogue catches the rhythm and grammar of vernacular as well as corporate language.
Lapsis is out on a Film Movement DVD with a short film and audio commentary by the director. It can also be screened on Vudu.