Moira+I spent yesterday afternoon at the Watershed cinema, this time to see Ben Wheatley’s film “High Rise”, based on JG Ballard’s 1975 novel of the same name, and
excellent Tom Hiddleston playing the lead character (a well-off young surgeon
who takes one of the bachelor flats near the top of a huge new apartment
One of my
architectural heroes, Le Corbusier, saw the idea of
the tower block as a way of providing spacious, peaceful, light-filled homes
for the masses and, by building upwards, space would be liberated to surround
such buildings with gardens and sports and cultural facilities. One of his most
celebrated designs, built in 1952, was the 12-storey, "Unité
d'Habitation" (originally called the “radiant city”) in Marseilles and
included floors for shopping, social clubs, child care, a gym, a hotel, a
rooftop garden and a swimming pool.
Well, this high-rise development, set in the 1970s (with Jeremy
Irons playing the role of the block’s arrogant, somewhat demented, architect),
is perhaps similar to Le Corbusier’s vision for living… but with added class
conflict – a grand social experiment, a “crucible for change” (the lower
classes live in cheaper flats on the lower floors, the middle classes on the
middle floors and the upper classes “touching the sky”). Phrases like “know
your place” and “don’t get ideas above your station” seemed particularly
however, also seems to be designed to isolate the occupants from the outside
world, allowing for the possibility to create their own closed environment… but
with the outdoor spaces appearing to consist mainly of car parking (with a very
impressive array of vehicles from the1970s!).
It all disintegrates
into the world reminiscent of an urban “Lord of the Flies”: life in the
high-rise begins to degenerate quickly (perhaps a little too quickly in the
film?), as power failures, refuse shoots blocked to capacity and petty
annoyances among neighbours turn to violence. Scuffles are fought throughout
the building, as floors try to claim lifts and hold them for their own. Groups
gather to defend their rights to the swimming pools… and party-goers attack
"enemy floors" to raid and vandalise them.
were times when I felt the film was looking back
on “class conflicts” of the present age
(well, not class conflict exactly, more like the battle between society’s
“haves” and “have-nots”)… and perhaps it does echo something of today’s
capitalist world of rich, greedy landlords and how the less well-off are being
forced out of cities, neighbourhoods and the like. I had expected to see a film
that was a metaphor for today’s consumer culture, but it didn’t quite come
across like that… and in many ways, I was a little disappointed.
never read any of Ballard’s books, but think of his work as being provocative,
disturbing and frequently apocalyptic. This film was all those things…
Impressive, confusing, self-indulgent…
and somewhat incoherent.
I think you probably need to see it
PS: there were times when I almost found
myself mixing up Hiddleston’s role with the one he’s playing currently in TV’s
“The Night Manager”… (he's probably decided that this type of role earns him most money!).
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