Not that long from now, the consequences of direct sunlight are so dangerous that only cloned human beings with augmented pigmentation can only do the work that’s required outdoors. Anyone else would be crazy to venture out there. Maybe Adam Bird (James D’Arcy) is. He doesn’t want to live in a virtual world like everyone else.
Donning a hazmat suit to drive between locations and conducting meetings in an office where he’s the only physical presence, Adam kicks against the online realm as much as he can, even though his employment and his life are governed by it. An ominous medical diagnosis re-ignites tensions with estranged wife Reena (Anna Brewster) and dunks Adam into the mire of technology’s darker side.
We’re in the dystopian world of the near future once again, a world in which contact is made mostly via avatars and VR, a world in which the concept of cloning has been embraced by society in order to deal with its ongoing crises. The markers which identify this kind of sci-fi tale are all in place but does LX 2048 have something special in its genetic make-up to distinguish it from so many others?
The lower budget of the movie doesn’t necessarily mean lower quality in terms of its look. The brief flashes of the technology are brought to life cleverly by neat little visual effects dotted throughout. Much bigger set-pieces are wisely avoided. For instance, you don’t experience the virtual meeting other than joining Adam at a table, arguing with someone who is never seen or heard. This sidesteps the issue of creating effects that a production of this size could never sustain.
Okay, there are shots of the wider city in which neon-lit transports whizz across the place via a network of tubes and that gives a taste of the broader scope but I don’t feel that was particularly necessary in a story which places its emphasis on the effects of pervasive computerisation and how a reliance on our online personas may be steadily erasing our humanity. These aren’t new subjects to tackle but LX 2048 takes on the discussion in an interesting fashion.
Not that its approach will be for everyone. Our introduction to Adam doesn’t exactly paint him as the most likeable type. He’s quick to show his temper with his colleagues, his marriage is in tatters. To be honest, he seems a bit of a whiner and it seems he was this way even before his fateful trip to his cloned doctor (an all-too-brief appearance by the excellent Gina McKee). He complains about how time his wife and kids spend in the “virtual realm” but he’s also a bit of a hypocrite because…ah, but I’m giving too much away.
Nevertheless, the twitchy, fascinating lead performance by D’Arcy keeps you hooked. Adam’s drive to be something much more than Mr Average – a level of achievement with which, it’s hinted, would have been perfectly fine with his exasperated spouse – leads him down a rabbit hole of shady scientific practices which also has the consequence of bringing a man called Donald Stein (Delroy Lindo) to his door, a meeting which will add further layers to the plot.
The first hour is something of a slow burn and the long, talky scenes between various characters may set you thinking that it’s all going to be all analysis and no action but a couple of sudden twists in the tale propel the final thirty minutes through a series of situations that become increasingly more strange and, it has to be said, fun without losing its serious tone.
LX 2048 may contain more ideas than it comfortably knows what to do within its running time but at least it doesn’t settle into the usual cloning tropes. The “upgraded” humans may lack the capacity for true spontaneity but they’re not shown to be the world-threatening menace they would be in many similar narratives. They’re good at their jobs and they’re programmed with the most positive traits of their predecessor. Of course, the lack of negative attributes does clash with what it means to be human, and that’s one of many things Adam can’t get his head around. He doesn’t hate the clones but he’s not that keen on being around them either.
The world-building is limited but still convincing, showing just enough of the advancements to set the scene and leaving the rest to the imagination of the viewer. The danger of the outside world, unfortunately, isn’t developed beyond a few lines between Adam and a security guard so any hint as to what’s roaming those scorched wildernesses is vague at best.
However, this does have some rather nifty notions which it does run with, based around the medical insurance system in which the life insurance really does insure your life, if you don’t mind showing up again as a clone. My personal favourite is the “virtual assassination”, a scheme worked out by someone powerful in the financial sector rather than your more common or garden criminal. I’m not going to spoil how it plays out but it causes most of the chaos in the final act.
An ambitious, if overly wordy, slice of sci-fi, LX 2048 doesn’t raise unique questions but it does make you think further about dilemmas you may have already considered and it does so in a watchable, occasionally startling way. The performances, primarily from a cast of talented Brits and the always reliable Lindo, keep things on the (mono?)rails. If you like your thrills to be of the cerebral type, there’s more than enough to enjoy and it’s well worth sticking around for the creepy payoff.