And now time for something completely different…! Different, and absolutely, utterly bonkers.
Welcome to the future. Actually, the 1970s and yet the ‘future’ at the same time. Based on the 1975 novel by J.G. Ballard, High-Rise tells the tale of a society – modelled here by the inhabitants of a new high-rise apartment block – that suffers a complete breakdown in civilisation over the span of three months. The architect (Jeremy Irons), who also inhabits the penthouse, had envisioned a new way of living – and he certainly gets it, although not the way anyone would have hoped!
Our main POV follows Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston, pleasing his fans with a lot of shower scenes!) as he moves into an apartment on the 25th floor. He’s soon informed, directly and indirectly, that the class system is alive and well: the upper classes (they even have a fancy dress party with everyone in period aristocratic costume, just so you absolutely know these are the nobs!) are on the upper floors, and the plebs – poorer, working families usually with multiple children – are on the lower floors. When the building begins to suffer ‘settling problems’ such as power failures, disproportionately affecting the lower levels, the stage is set for a bit of a class struggle.
A bit, she says: with alarmingly slow suddenness (yes, I mean the oxymoron) we’re plunged into full scale war. Appropriately for Ballard’s wackiness, the first battles start as who can throw the best, debauched party – and it’s not long before it all descends into brutal violence (reminiscent of A Clockwork Orange, somehow) and a complete collapse of civilisation.
From the alarmingly quick pile-up of rubbish strewn throughout the building to the odd reactions of the residents, this is not a story to be taken 100% literally. Indeed, I’m sure there could be (or is) an entire semester’s course on the allegory contained within the novel, translated fairly well (imo) to the screen. Which is not to say it’s going to appeal to everyone, or, I suspect, even to most people. Big hint: if the item being barbecued in the opened few minutes disturbs you, you should probably leave then!!
I found the whole thing rather gloriously mad. I was very impressed with the cast, including Luke Evans as the ‘working man’ trope, James Purefoy as a stereotyped-to-heck ‘toff’, and Sienna Miller and Mad Men‘s Elizabeth Moss as two of the long-suffering women of the piece. Hiddleston is hugely charismatic as ever, giving us a quiet centre to the whole crazy proceedings. As things quickly spiral out of control, the themes – including misogyny (remember, this is the 1970s and women are not so well treated), class systems, guilt, snobbery, secrets, debauchery, generally life – come so thick and fast that, sure, the movie can seem a bit of a jumble. But as an overall portrait, I think you could stare at this for hours (i.e. watch repeatedly) and find some new thing to home in on each time.
As I say, very definitely not for everyone, and not the most comfortable of viewings – think, Lord of the Flies without the wilderness and with (supposed) adults. But overall I think there’s a lot to take from this gloriously bonkers vision!
Released: 18th March 2016
Viewed: 26th March 2016
Running time: 119 minutes
Rated: 15 – a great deal of sex and violence!
My rating: 7.5/10