Science fiction films have a tendency to remind you of other science fiction films. This is part of the fun, and very much the case with LX 2048. Writer-director Guy Moshe’s tale of a technologically determined dystopia features a bureaucrat, Adam Bird (James D’Arcy, “Dunkirk”), who is reminiscent of “Brazil.” The high-tech setting a decaying world is similar to “Blade Runner” and “Blade Runner 2049,” while the eponymous drug echoes “Equilibrium.” Characters in this future spend a lot of time in a virtual world called the Realm, much like the Oasis in “Ready Player One.” Thematically the film debates identity and humanity, debates also found in “Ex Machina,” “Ghost in the Shell” and “Her,” among others.
With all these references, does LX 2048 have an identity of its own? The answer is a resounding yes, as Moshe crafts an astute and sophisticated treatment of these familiar sci-fi tropes, incorporating insurance policies, crumbling marriage, domestic space and political economy into his world building. Much like the films mentioned above, LX 2048 uses the story of an individual within a sci-fi setting to explore much wider questions. In this world, life insurance policies allow deceased people to be cloned in the event of their death, with whatever modifications and enhancements the customer or their beneficiaries may desire. Clones can move around in sunlight, which has become deadly to humans. Adam, a technological broker who still works during the day must wear a hazardous materials suit when outdoors. He is separated from his wife Reena (Anna Brewster, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”) but still clings to her as well as their children. Faced with medical and financial hardship, he starts investigating the history of his Premium 3 insurance policy as well as cloning and “chipping,” the technology that allows clones to adapt to outdoor conditions. This leads him to a series of surprising encounters, including Donald Stein (Delroy Lindo, “Da 5 Bloods”), Maria (Gabrielle Cassi) and others both familiar and different.
It is notable that LX 2048 is largely a chamber piece and could work just as well as a stage play. More than a third takes place in Adam’s apartment where he receives his visitors. Paulius Seskas’ production design, both here and elsewhere, makes the future a lived-in reality, with clean lines and sleek integration of domestic objects. Notably, Adam’s apartment is distinct: The home he previously inhabited with Reena and their three sons largely consists of plastic panels, but his own apartment is more old-fashioned with stone walls and different fabrics rather than complete uniformity. Interestingly, the workplaces that Adam visits are indistinguishable from today, consisting of glass-walled conference rooms with long tables where Adam attends virtual meetings. James D’Arcy demonstrates remarkable skill in these and other scenes where he must act against no one. Wearing wraparound goggles and earpieces, everyone connects virtually but Adam is all that we see. Whether D’Arcy was being fed lines offscreen is unclear, but his motions towards people that Adam sees through his goggles but we cannot ensures that the conceit of virtual connections is always present.
And yet, the very virtuality of these connections emphasizes the utter isolation of this dystopia. Adam is a man isolated from pretty much everyone. His work colleagues are at a constant distance; he is alienated from his family; his hazmat suit distances from the world; his daylight movements keep him away from people; the only physical interactions he has are with clones. There is clear prejudice in his dealing with a doctor and therapist, clones who are treated by Adam, but not the film as a whole, as an underclass. Science fiction often uses clones as a metaphor for the underprivileged, from “Never Let Me Go” and “The Island” to “Moon,” but interestingly in this case the film’s perspective as a whole seems different from that of the protagonist. Tempting as it may be to simply ally with the central character, LX 2048 invites us to see Adam as problematic, and indeed emblematically so. He is sympathetic in terms of his plight, but he is also whiny and prejudiced. His closest connection appears to be with his virtual girlfriend Maria, who is a fantasy yet one that he cannot seem to accept. Noticeably, the only images of the Realm that the viewer sees are Adam’s interactions with Maria: An idyllic beach scene where she is (of course) scantily clad and talking to Adam, viewed and therefore objectified from his point of view. Similarly, Adam has a physical sex doll that he has intercourse with while communing with Maria, emphasizing the importance of this fantasy despite his protestations to Reena (in flashbacks) that this was not cheating.
Adam’s effect on women is a further problematization. Maria can be an ideal fantasy, but Adam customized her to have a degree of free will. When this free will makes him less than perfect for her, he becomes confused and eventually violent. His protestations that clones cannot feel pain like humans leads to one female clone self-harming. His anger at another woman is narratively linked to a brutal death. Through these associations, the film suggests the damaging effects of male entitlement. Adam may feel inadequate throughout, but does this feeling excuse or justify his behavior? In other films it probably would, due to the privileged place of masculinity within our patriarchal society. Moshe seems more critical, suggesting that maybe men could do more than worry about themselves so much.
This satirical conceit comes to full force in the film’s finale, when questions of identity, idealization and integrity are quite literally confronted. Moshe also blends various tones, combining the grim with the touching and also adding some very effective humor. Best of all, this sequence leads to a wonderfully ambiguous conclusion that leaves many possibilities open. If we can improve everyone, should we? If we do, does this mean we learn from mistakes or simply repeat them? Where is the balance between technological determinism and free will? LX 2048 is the most satisfying kind of science fiction film — one that engages with interesting ideas while providing as many questions as it does answers.