In season one of The Sopranos, Tony Soprano suggests that if he were not in the mob maybe he’d be “selling patio furniture off Route 22.” Well, in the dystopian future of Lapsis, maybe Tony would be like Ray (Dean Imperial), a portly New Yorker from Queens who’s lured into working for CBLR, a tech firm whose contractors lay cables for the latest ‘Quantum’ computer technology. Now, connecting obelisks with cables laid haphazardly along the countryside floor is not at all credible, but Lapsis is a smart little sci-fi satire of the gig-economy that is bolstered by a great performance from Imperial.
Anyone who’s seen The Sopranos will clock Ray and Tony’s resemblance in an instant. Ray has the slicked back hair and masculine corpulence that Anna (Madeline Wise), another CBLR worker, describes as a ‘Seventies mobster vibe’. She’s not wrong, but the vibe is strictly a matter of appearance because Ray is a good man – the proverbial salt of the earth. And he’s a convincing one, too, as Imperial eschews stereotype by playing Ray’s working class charisma with a balanced authenticity.
Ray joins CBLR on the assurance of Felix (James McDaniel), a dodgy acquaintance who manipulates Ray with talk of big wages, which Ray needs if he is to fund his step brother’s treatment for ‘omnia’, which is a lethargic condition much like ME. Soon, Ray hits the trails for CBLR, unspooling the cables over hilly terrain. He carries a tablet device called a ‘medallion’, which is used to manage the route, communicate with colleagues and track his every move. “Challenge your status quo!” chirps the device, echoing the sinister ‘Don’t be evil’ vibe of Silicon Valley giants that pretend they’re not utterly consumed by the bottom line. Also, Ray and his fellow cablers are kept in check by small robots that trundle along unspooling their own wheels of cabling. They may be slow and ungraceful but the damned things operate 24/7, forcing Ray to chase after them when they overtake him in his sleep, lest he be penalised for falling behind.
All of this is clear social commentary on issues such as automation, the gig economy and Amazon’s warehouses, where operatives are reluctant to even use the bathroom. To his credit, writer/director Noah Hutton builds the satirical world of Lapsis in a way Christopher Nolan could only dream of, packaging reams of expositional detail into natural dialogue and performances. There’s a bit of hiccup with the arrival of Anna, a cabler and part-time writer who delivers social justice rhetoric with a smug, po-faced demeanour, but Hutton reels this in before his film descends into polemical hand wringing.
What Lapsis does best is depicting Ray’s peers and associates in this near future of technocratic corporatism. There’s a nasty, selfish vibe that threads through all of them; everything is transactional to these people, nothing is free. Especially the parking, for which Ray is penalised on two occasions because the government has moved to a new calendar promoted by ‘Quantum’, the omnipotent tech giant. There’s a hint of Franz Kafka in the way Ray, a personified throwback, navigates this world of jargon and euphemism, which apply a despicable veneer to their motives of greed and exploitation. You may not believe in the technology, but you will believe in Ray, a genuine person in a world of phoneys.