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article imageReview: ‘High-Rise’ is a spectacular failed social experiment Special

By Sarah Gopaul     May 20, 2016 in Entertainment
‘High-Rise’ is an extremely stylized depiction of a total breakdown of society within the confines of a tower block that harkens back to dystopian pictures of the ‘70s.
When one looks back at particular eras or segments of history, they can often give the impression of one big social experiment conducted by a great unknown. The questions that seem to be asked most frequently are, “How far can we take this?” and relatedly, “How long will people allow this to continue?” The answers are often frightening and may cause the observer to doubt humanity’s ability or will to survive, and yet the past appears to be treated as a how-to guide rather than a reminder of earlier mistakes. In High-Rise, a mini-society forms in the confines of a London building; but its social hierarchy invites a chaotic repetition of days gone by.
After the implosion of his personal life, Dr. Laing (Tom Hiddleston) purchases a unit in an elite tower block on the outskirts of London. The highest floors are reserved for the rich and famous; those in the middle have less of each, while those at the bottom have the least of either — but none who could afford to live in the building would be considered poor. It aims to be a self-contained facility with a supermarket, athletic centre, pool and other amenities, which encourages residents to forget the outside world. But this plan for total isolation backfires horrendously. Under the pressure of self-sufficiency, the formerly civil devolve into pillaging criminals and hedonists as the utilities fail and the supermarket shelves become bare.
Based on J.G. Ballard’s novel of the same name and set in the ‘70s, the film openly criticizes the materialism, selfishness and pleasure-seeking mentality that was sweeping through the West. As decorum falters, orgies and multiple sexual partners become the norm until even that degenerates to rapists wandering the halls in search of their next victim. As water, energy and supplies are depleted, previously strict class rules are abandoned and the lower floors physically battle for dominion over levels beyond their assignments. Their eventual goal is to overthrow the aristocrats and overtake the penthouse, which is also home of the architect (Jeremy Irons); which is all quite reminiscent of a peasant rebellion. The picture becomes visibly darker as conditions worsen, transitioning from the bright promising home to a grey residence devoid of happiness to a murky and perilous cesspool of crazy tenants.
The devolution audiences witness in this picture is undeniably fascinating. It’s much like watching the creation of Mad Max’s waste lands on fast forward and in a fish bowl, as the craziness that grips the tower remains contained within its walls. The initial infractions seem manageable, but quickly escalate to rampant proportions. The upper levels are cross with the lower level families who supposedly clog the garbage chutes with their diapers, which gradually results in an abundance of rotting bags piling in every hallway; the lower levels are frustrated at the consistent lack of utilities and the upper class’ commandeering of the well-maintained pool in spite of their shortage of basic necessities. As everyone in the structure slowly goes mad or stays deliriously intoxicated, Laing focuses on finishing his apartment in a manner suitable to the situation brewing just outside his door.
Hiddleston is very convincing in the role of the doctor who views things practically and only aspires to put his life back together. As a teacher and neighbour, he is quite kind and understanding. Even though he befriends some of his fellow residents from various floors, he never appears to really fit in comfortably with this lifestyle he’s attempted to adopt. Irons is an interesting character who appears to be in denial and remains relatively calm, even as he’s forced to abandon an orgy in his apartment to find his runaway wife in the chaos. The remaining supporting cast, including Elizabeth Moss, Luke Evans, James Purefoy and Sienna Miller, are equally excellent and truly bring this dystopian nightmare to life. Director Ben Wheatley applies his typically gritty approach to violence, and finesses it to deliver a stylistic and controlled depiction of anarchy.
Director: Ben Wheatley
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons and Elisabeth Moss
More about High rise, Tom Hiddleston, Ben Wheatley, luke evans, Elizabeth moss
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