Scenes from the Class Struggle
For those who can take it, and some won’t be able to, director Ben Wheatley’s screen adaptation of JG Ballard’s High-Rise is a sleek, stylish, savagely satirical parable that would do Terry Gilliam, Lindsay Anderson and Stanley Kubrick proud. Mainstream success is irrelevant, as cult status is instantly and deservedly assured.
The viewer’s point of identification is Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston), a neurologist who has just moved into his 25th-floor apartment of a high-rise complex and immediately gets a crash course in the eccentricities and debauchery of his neighbors. The high-rise is clearly a metaphor for society, as reflected in Ballard’s novel and Amy Jump’s script. Indeed, there are juicy metaphors galore.
Underneath the surface elegance and opulence lurks decadence and latent sadism, and power outages accelerate a collective descent into madness, as the residents turn on each other. Friends become enemies, violence and sexual fetishism run rampant, and in the midst of this chaos, the assertion of the individual is the only option, although it doesn’t necessarily guarantee safety, survival, or even sanity.
Hiddleston’s pivotal performance is one of his best, and a superlative cast includes Jeremy Irons (him again!) as Anthony Royal, the aptly-named architect of the complex; Elisabeth Moss, Sienna Miller, James Purefoy, Keeley Hawes, Sienna Guillory, Tony Way and especially Luke Evans, who comes very close to stealing the show as increasingly-deranged family man Richard Wilder.
Producer Jeremy Thomas has wanted to produce High- Rise since the mid-’70s, yet it was long considered “unfilmable.” But Thomas, who produced the likewise unfilmable William Burroughs adaptation/interpretation Naked Lunch (1991) and the controversial 1996 adaptation of Ballard’s Crash – both directed by David Cronenberg – has seen his patience and tenacity pay off.
High-Rise has as much to say about contemporary society now as then, despite the futuristic trappings. Its twisted tone and scabrous satire, carefully retained in Wheatley’s confident, occasionally (and appropriately) indulgent direction, pack a wallop. Again, for those who can take it.
– High-Rise opens Friday. !
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