You know what I mean? Did you go out into yard, set up games, charge admission, give away small prizes, and maybe – just maybe – make a buck? Generally speaking, no one was harmed in this homegrown form of capitalism; and – generally speaking – a good time was had by all.
But was there this one kid who just couldn’t settle for winning the same prize everyone else did? You know the type I mean: he raised a stink, said his prize should’ve been bigger, raised holy Hell with you while everyone else was having a grand ol’ time, and generally just acted like a nuisance?
Sadly, this is what the motion picture world has become. Whether films are big studio productions of small independent features, these modern era artisans have decided you need to listen to them; and they’re gonna keep telling you how bad the world is where businesses need to make a profit in order to survive, thrive, and grow. Yes, someone typically gets wealthy in the process – even in the case of your carnival you pocketed a few extra quarters if you did it the right way – and that demonstrates just how evil you were, even as a little kid.
This message – that business is bad – continues to resonate today, especially amongst those who make their living talking about films. These “critics” will heap inordinate praise on practically anything that deconstructs even the smallest element of how the American economy works; and that’s what you have with a motion picture like Lapsis (2020). It’s an art-house feature that – through satire – tries to rip to shreds the ponzi scheme artisans purport capitalism to be.
Like most art-house features, the masses-at-large will never hear of this picture.
But that’s OK … because it was likely never intended for the average Joe at all.
This one was made by the aristocracy for the aristocracy, logic be damned.
They’re the only ones who’ll get a charge out of this.
From the product packaging:
“New York, an alternate present: the quantum computing revolution has begun and investors are lining their pockets in the trading market. Building the network, though, requires miles of cables to be laid across rough terrain by unprotected gig workers. Queens delivery man Ray Tincelli is skeptical of new technology, and the buy-in to start ‘cabling’ is steep. So when he scores a shady permit, he believes his fortunes have finally changed. What he doesn’t expect is to be pulled into a conspiracy involving hostile cablers, corporate greed, and the mysterious ‘Lapsis’ who may have previously owned his medallion.”
Word to the wise: if your storytelling takes an inordinate amount of set-up along with an unusually high number of expository scenes to build your world, then perhaps the narrative to a bit too complex for the average viewer. That’s almost the entirety of Lapsis, the debut SciFi/Drama feature from Noah Hutton, a documentarian who’s turned his eye toward fiction. I don’t offer that advice as a complaint because, like so many, I found the film as smart and timely as did the others: I just strongly disagree that it carries a message that resonates beyond these 108 minutes. In fact, this one will likely be forgotten once the next art-house flash-in-the-pan comes along … which, knowing the festival film circuit, is likely to be any day now.
This failure to echo beyond is probably owed to the fact that Lapsis is surprisingly void of two key pieces required for any effective satire (which this most definitely is). First, there’s no conflict. Second, there’s no resolution. For didactic storytelling to live beyond the scope of its time and place, it has to register with an audience made up of more than our cultural overlords; and despite the blue-collar focus of its key players this Lapsis lapses to connect in any meaningful way.
Now, it could have, precisely because Hutton’s script focuses on the plight of the working class: the Tincelli brothers are a perfect pair of real-world, back-breaking laborers who have found themselves on hard times. Actor Dean Imperial (as the eldest half-brother Ray) brings a kind of understated machismo to work here: driven to help Jamie who sufferers from a CFS-like condition, Ray strives to balance ‘doing the right thing’ with ‘making an exceptionally honest buck (and then some)’ exactly the way most working-class folks do. He doesn’t see taking the job of laying cable as a pathway to privately realized wealth: instead, it’s an avenue that presents a solution to a problem plaguing the family. He seeks to do the right thing, and that focus stays front-and-center throughout Lapsis’ occasionally muddled affair.
Where the feature fell short for me was in establishing this parallel Earth, a place wherein the – ahem – already existing infrastructure for WiFi, cable television, and telephones (all of which exist) apparently wasn’t enough for this all-new, high-tech, newfangled quantum computing that all the kids are talking about. In this satire, Hutton would have audiences believe that all-new cables which just happen to look everything like same-old-same-old cables need to be laid virtually by hand above ground simply cast unspooled across the grass-covered ground from unit to unit across the forests of New York. Again – just for clarification’s sake – this cable is left lying on the ground, out in the open, where anyone who wanted could come along and cut it, splice it, animals could chew on it, etc. In an arena like SciFi which often requires a suspension of disbelief, I found this a pill too big to swallow as presented.
And perhaps therein lies the rub: did Lapsis bite off far more than any single viewer could chew?
As I said, this is clearly art-house entertainment, and that means something to those of us who like considering any feature’s ideas. To its credit, Lapsis raises plenty of them – corporate greed, the preponderance of increasingly visible technology, service drones, untraceable ailments like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, unionization, traditional medicine versus fringe sciences, etc. – and, as a consequence, many of them are covered all too briefly for any inherent message to reverberate the way they should. And Imperial’s performance – while I found it one of the film’s highlights – never quite took enough of a stand to be truly meaningful: he never delivers a legitimate ‘Norma Rae’ moment though he inevitably finds his way into Hutton’s labor movement more as a consequence of who his is rather than of anything he truly believes.
Sure, we take it as a given that there’s some sort of conspiracy, but it isn’t a conspiracy the audience sees coming organically: it’s one entirely fabricated by the screenwriter. Why? Well, perhaps Hutton felt one was needed for the satire to work. Just what is this grand conspiracy? Well, it’s never laid out perfectly enough for it to make much sense. There are these questions raised about a previous cabler who’s given the somewhat laughable name of ‘Lapsis Beeftech,’ and apparently the man figured out a code-based workaround that would give the workers the upper hand over the world’s increasing automation. Why is that important? Well, because machine-economy bad and worker-economy good (or some such nonsense). Instead of feeling this intrigue was part of the story, it ends up feeling like one more idea in an already idea-heavy script … and no one likes a puzzle just for the sake of being a puzzle.
Even in satire, viewers want to believe in a character; and Imperial’s work here has the right background for them to admire. But the tale that drifts too heavily in academics and too sparingly in emotion will likely never strike the right balance with those same blue-collar watchers for it to establish common ground. Lapsis is a miss, but I’ll give you that – as a SciFi junkie – I found most of it still a glorious miss. Better than having tried and nearly scored a bullseye than never having tried at all.
Alas, as usual, satire works mostly for scholars and high-brow film critics out there. Lapsis – though exceedingly well-made for an independent feature – just fails to hit any mark consistently to be strongly recommended. It’s worth a view (for those who are patient), but just don’t expect for any messaging (other than its blatantly obvious anti-capitalism) to be consistent enough to mean much … and definitely don’t look for it to reach any kind of effective resolution. This one was made by the aristocracy to poke fun at those who’ve learned how to make an economy run, forgetting that they need an economy to not only get their pictures made but also to get them to the same masses they condemn for going along with all of it.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Film Movement provided me with a DVD of Lapsis for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.