Tuesday, 22 March 2016
High Rise (3 Stars)
"This is my party. You are my guests. I decide who is lobotomised".
This film is based on a novel with the same name, written by J. G. Ballard in 1975. The director Ben Wheatley made the wise decision to set the film in the 1970's instead of today. The history of high-rise buildings has run differently in America, where they're called skyscrapers, but in England the 1970's were the golden years of high-rise buildings. They were marketed as affordable quality housing for everyone. Over the next 20 years high-rise buildings deteriorated into virtual slums, and today nobody would use the word "quality" to describe them. They're cheap and filthy, inhabited only by people who are too poor to find anything else. The building in this film still has the naive optimism of the 1970's.
However, the film shows a breakdown of the society inside the building. It's a microcosm of the British class system. The building is self-contained. People leave it to go to work, but everything else that they need is within the building. There's a school, a supermarket, a swimming pool, a gym, a bar... in short, everything people need in their daily life. The problem is that the building doesn't unite people, it separates them. The working class, mostly families with children, live in small rooms on the lower floors, the middle class live in spacious rooms on the middle floors, and the upper class live a pompously rich lifestyle on the upper floors.
The film's main character is Dr. Robert Laing, a neurologist who lives on the 25th floor, caught in the middle of the developing tribe warfare. He's friends with Richard Wilder, a documentary film maker on the second floor, but he also has contact with the building's architect, Anthony Royal, who lives on the top floor, the 40th. Dr. Laing doesn't fit in anywhere. The people on the lower floors reject him because he is too smart. When he's invited to an upper floor party by the architect he's thrown out because they think he's too cheap.
The film has some very good ideas, but it's too splintered to keep the viewer's attention. It's the sort of story that would work better in a book. There are too many people in the film, and apart from the three main characters we have trouble relating to any of them. It's a film I can respect but not enjoy. It's thought-provoking but not entertaining. Could it have been made better by another director? I think not. It's too ambitious a project for a film. Nevertheless, the acting is outstanding, particularly by Tom Hiddleston (Dr. Laing) and Jeremy Irons (Anthony Royal).