Tomorrow’s Workers Still Facing Automation in “Lapsis” | SXSW 2020 Review

Tomorrow’s Workers Still Facing Automation in “Lapsis” | SXSW 2020 Review

Writer/director Noah Hutton predicts the future in his latest film Lapsis. He has taken an inevitable technological advancement, quantum computers, and created a grounded story surrounding it. Quantum computers use quantum mechanics that take staggering amounts of computing powers, so today they are being developed by large companies. In the world of Lapsis quantum computers are the newest home appliance that one must have if they want to keep up with modern society.

We follow Ray, a schlub but well-intentioned guy living in Queens, New York who hasn’t had the best of luck. He’s taking care of his sick brother Jamie. Ray doesn’t have funds to pay for Jamie’s treatment but has heard being a “cabler” is a financially rewarding job. Cablers are the people who lay cables for the quantum computers from one connector (a large electro-magnetic cube to which cables attach) to the next, paid each time a route is completed. While it may pay well at times, the job takes a lot of stamina and endurance and isn’t one to aspire to. It’s taken by people at the end of their financial rope. Desperate for money Ray takes the job, receiving a “medallion” containing an instructional app for employees from his friend who assigns medallions for the company. This medallion has not been reset from its previous owner as it’s supposed to be before being reused by a new employee. In his first weekend cabling Ray becomes paranoid to the fact his app already has a lot of racked up points and money, worried whoever it belonged to before him wasn’t entirely above board.

The world of Lapsis is not far from our own. In some ways, instead of being a futuristic film, it’s set in today’s world, just with personal quantum computing added. Ray is an everyday blue-collar Queens man with a self-described “’70s mobster vibe” who’s just looking to pay the bills. It’s when we enter the world of the cablers that things become more foreign. To cable, many people follow GPSs to lay down cable through miles of wooded area. They build small communities with families at their camps as though their entire lives are built around this vocation. The app itself is cheeky in nature with a happy and energetic voice saying when and when not to rest during the physically taxing journeys. The company wants these routes to seem like a game.

At first Ray’s only concerns are playing by the rules and figuring out whose medallion he’s working with. His situation is further complicated by the existence of automated cablers carts. These machines link to the workers’ routes and, as they do not need to rest, they often beat out a person’s mileage. After they link to the route, the machine receives credit for what the human worker has already completed. The carts are illegal to tamper with but cablers find ways to stop them without being seen. It’s another hiccup for the job and another way in which corporations are attempting to cut costs by automating people’s jobs. Ray becomes paranoid about his environment aggrevated by how the community doesn’t trust the previous user’s log name of Ray’s medallion forcing Ray to play things close to the chest and be discerning when choosing who and who not to trust.

Lapsis is filmed with a certain intensity giving each shot’s subject special attention. Ray wants to make money and get out of debt, but questions his circumstances, or at least the people that set him down this path. For some reason he thinks he’s been set up with that medallion on purpose, when logically there would be no reason for the people who gave it to him to want to harm or threaten Ray. The cinematographer, Mike Gomes, has beautifully merged theme and image to convey Ray’s observant mind.

This film is all about corporate greed and the unfair use of workers. Jobs requiring the most physical of labor normally pay very little while jobs at desks pay more. And deeper than that, people at desks take advantage of the ones moving around. Like people playing chess, some people get to sit, strategize and create decisions and then move a player on the board. Corporate greed and wealth disparity is at the center focus of this film. Corporations want the poor to remain poor and the rich to remain rich and become even richer. And it would be understandable for somebody in Ray’s position, one of desperation and of total mystery, to be infected by that paranoia.

Lapsis weaves a tale of social insight and that brings to light lack of worker appreciation. While such a job can help someone pay off debt or cover their family member’s medical costs, cablers hike and climb for hours, sometimes even days, only to be challenged by something automated that works essentially for free. The benefits of quantum computing make it just the next logical step in business development, just as automation cuts the cost of employees. These cablers are faced with a binary decision, a one or a zero: let the inevitable future of automation take them over or start a revolution.

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