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November 18, 2019 | Rome, Italy

High-Rise

By | 2018-03-21T20:00:40+01:00 May 27th, 2016|Reviews|

3

Date: 2015

Director: Ben Wheatley

Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Elisabeth Moss, James Purefoy, Keeley Hawes, Augustus Prew, Peter Ferdinando

In 1975, British futurist J.G. Ballard published an apocalyptic parable about the British class system using an isolated and insulated high-rise as a metaphor for decay and social chaos. In the vast country garden penthouse was the building’s creator, a man called Royal (pun intended), with his eccentric wife and a horse. Lodged in the concrete jungle’s middle floors was an array of carnivorous and amoral middle class yes-men (like newcomer Dr. Robert Laing). Below them dwelled the distempered underlings, loud and ready to defy authority at a moment’s notice.

Director Ben Wheatley casts chameleon-like Tom Hiddleston as Laing, who after moving into unit 2505 confronts the sexually and socially toxic ecosystem around him. Laing is sandwiched between the “vanguard of the well-to-do” and the social climbers. He sleeps around, going with the edgy flow, until the high-rise’s fabric begins coming apart, factions whipped into warring hysteria.

While Wheatley effectively conveys a lush retro-future in the spirit of “Brazil,” the dramatic tension unfolds tediously. Notwithstanding supermarkets and sleek elevators (that break down often), the high-rise predictably tyrannizes its increasingly alienated occupants. Social-order tinkerer Royal (Jeremy Irons) — a baronial figure from another era — tries maintaining order (and satisfying his sexual appetites) until it’s clear order has no dominion. Welcome then to Ballard’s dead-end, dog-eat-dog world, something the story drives home by opening in the aftermath of the chaos, with the placid Laing roasting a dog on spit.

Wheatley is an exceptional visual artist and his high-rise is an eclectic freak show. The real question is whether Ballard’s socio-political barbs, relevant at the dawn of the welfare-busting Thatcher era, still hold up. Ballard saw the high-rise as “a huge animate presence” brooding over its residents and “keeping a magisterial eye on the events taking place,” a colony in the sky. When single mother Charlotte (Sienna Miller) asks Laing what’s in his many unopened boxes, he replies: “Sex and paranoia,” and there’s a lot of both.

But there’s also a moldy feel, as if the four decades it took to adapt Ballard’s book were at least two too many for a message spiritually linked to a “Clockwork Orange” time when the redrawing of the British welfare system, the end of public housing, and the menace of urban sprawl was top-of-the-charts.

About the Author:

Marcia Yarrow
A military brat, Marcia Yarrow was born in Hamburg, Germany but grew up in Germany, Spain, and Provo, Utah. She's been writing for the magazine since its creation in 2004.

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