Life Breaks Down in High-Rise

high-rise

Reading J.G. Ballard’s sleek 1976 novel about a market-based experiment in high-rise living gone horrifyingly wrong is an entirely different experience than watching director Ben Wheatley’s decadent exploration of societal and personal decay. Tom Hiddleston is perfectly cast as the detached and enigmatic Robert Laing, a new arrival in a Brutalist apartment block designed by the architect-philosopher Anthony Royal (an inscrutable Jeremy Irons). All looming pillars and oppressive concrete, the building is packed with nearly every amenity its inhabitants could want–a pool, bank, hair salon, grocery store, even an elementary school–freeing them to explore the increasingly dangerous social dynamics that develop between the posh residents of the upper floors and the middle-class professionals and working-class families that reside below them. Wheatley, a native of Essex, nails the stiff-upper-lip strain of black comedy that runs through the gorgeously composed film, which luxuriates in the beauty of decay that Ballard’s clinical prose renders much more gruesome. Class warfare aside, much of High-Rise’s violence is of the gendered kind, with free-wheeling Charlotte (Sienna Miller) and domesticated Helen (Elisabeth Moss) as total opposites who are both subjected to the misogynistic rage of Helen’s increasingly unhinged husband (Luke Evans), all set to the superbly sinister score by composer Clint Mansell. A Lord of the Flies for the dystopian age, High-Rise bleakly looks into the abyss and wonders if the way forward is not also the way down.

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