“High-Rise” (Directed by Ben Wheatley)

high-riseHigh-Rise (2016)

Director: Ben Wheatley
Writers: Amy Jump & Ben Wheatley
Cast:  Tom Hiddleston, Sienna Miller, Jeremy Irons, Luke Evans, Elizabeth Moss

A magnificent adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s cooly savage, satirical novel, Ben Wheatley’s “High-Rise” is gruesomely faithful to Ballard’s acerbic view of humanity, how some of us try to separate ourselves from rest of the common herd via status symbols, titles and privilege, with all the accompanying props and regalia.

Is it Darwinian? Evidence of Dawkins’ “selfish gene”? Why are there men and women among us who insist on appropriating for themselves far more than they are due, stealing resources and opportunities from those far more deserving?

Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) arrives at the city’s latest mega-project, five towers in various stages of completion encircling a massive parking complex. It is a colossal development that will eventually house thousands of people in efficient, state of the art comfort. Laing takes possession of an apartment about halfway up the high-rise, which places him in a unique position between the lower floors (occupied by the less affluent) and the television personalities and movie stars living in the exalted, upper realms of the structure.

It doesn’t take long before the two factions are vying for access to the services and functions the high-rise provides…especially once the power outages and food shortages commence and people take it upon themselves to secure the necessities of life. Within three months, the residents of the building are existing in squalor, fighting and killing over scraps, separated into various clans and societies living within uneasy proximity to each other, any small spark or conflict  leading to bloody raids and reprisals.

Hiddleston’s performance as Robert Laing is thoughtful, nuanced, the mental and moral disintegration of his character nicely played. Sienna Miller is a smouldering, erotic presence on-screen: her portrayal of the vampish Charlotte is a high point. A pleasure to see Jeremy Irons, as always, and he imbues the role of Royal, the Architect, with a delightful sense of menace.

Well-scripted, visually striking, this is director Wheatley’s most well-rounded and accomplished film to date and I predict, like “Fight Club”, “Donnie Darko” and “Eraserhead”, “High-Rise” will only grow in stature in years to come, eventually acquiring “cult” status.

The movie pitilessly dissects the social evils that have accompanied our drive to technologically remove ourselves from interaction with nature, the outside world, even our next door neighbours. Modern life has created a hedonistic, consumerist mindset that puts little stock in inter-personal relationships, the ties that bind, and instead insists that we sequester ourselves in our own safe, personal space, a sanctuary we ferociously defend against all interlopers, while hysterically invoking our God-given right to “stand our ground”.

“High-Rise” might seem fanciful to some, a dystopic, far-fetched, blood-soaked parable. That doesn’t do justice to Ballard’s cruel genius or Ben Wheatley’s enviable abilities as a film-maker. Those seeking the safety of fantasy and escapism will not find much of either in evidence in “High-Rise”. Instead we are reminded of the thin-ness of the veneer surrounding civilization and how quickly the trappings of civil society melt away in times of tribulation and want.

Whatever the result of a war where every man is enemy to every man, also a result of a time when men live without other security than what their own strength and their own capacity to invent their give. In such a state, there is no room for a strenuous activity, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth, no navigation, no use of imported goods by sea, no building suitable for any device move or lift things as require much force, no knowledge of the earth’s surface, no measurement of time, no arts, no letters, no society, and, worst of all, constant fear, and danger of violent death and life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short…

(Thomas Hobbes)

ΩΩΩΩ 1/2 (Out of 5)

“High-Rise” is currently playing at the Broadway Theatre in Saskatoon. Click here for show times.


About Cliff Burns

I'm a literary writer, specializing in slipstream/ alternative/surreal/science fiction. My influences include Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, Samuel Beckett, Jorge Luis Borges, David Cronenberg, Rene Magritte, any artist who defies convention and busts open genres, attacking the status quo.
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