High-Rise takes a multistorey look at an imploding society
Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons and Sienna Miller star in dystopian drama about upward mobility and power plays in an apartment building
An apocalyptic scenario doesn’t always mean the end of the world. In the sci-fi drama High-Rise, society devolves into war and madness over the 40 floors of an apartment building.
Based on the 1975 J.G. Ballard novel, the movie stars Tom Hiddleston as medical-school professor Robert Laing, who moves into the 25th floor of an ultra-swank, cutting-edge building that acts as a visual metaphor for class structure: lower classes live in the bottom levels, and the higher floors are reserved for the upper classes.
Swimming pools and a grocery store inside the complex give residents everything they’d ever need, but when there are power outages, food shortages and a lack of waste removal, things get progressively crazier to the point of people riding horses around the place, a mentally unstable man (Luke Evans) plotting against the building’s chief architect (Jeremy Irons) and Laing losing his cool enough to fight tooth and nail for a can of paint. (Not to mention the women, played by Elisabeth Moss, Sienna Miller and others, who find their own ways to gain power amid the implosion.)
Hiddleston was drawn to what he describes as the intelligence of the adapted screenplay by Wheatley’s wife, Amy Jump, but also to the extremity of the novel’s themes: inequality, instinct and appetite. In it Ballard likens the high-rise to a “vertical zoo, its hundreds of cages stacked above each other.”
The class warfare, consumerism and undoing of community in High-Rise are still relevant. And Wheatley sees other parallels between today’s world and the one when the novel was released in the 1970s, an era with terrorism, worry about ecological collapse and the rise of the right wing. (There was also the idea of nuclear annihilation “just to add that extra horror,” Wheatley says with a laugh.)
“When I think of my own life, you meet it halfway,” Wheatley explains. “You go, ‘Well, it’s all going to be OK. I’m not going to lose my job, I’m going to keep my health, the house will be here today as it is tomorrow.’ You have to think like that not to go insane because otherwise everything would be terrifying.
“But Ballard had that experience. He didn’t meet society halfway, he didn’t enjoy the fantasy of it. He could see through it all.”
High-Rise opens on July 28