Thursday, January 5, 2017

Movie Review: High-Rise (2015)

High-Rise (2015) directed by Ben Wheatley

Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) moves into a new and futuristic high-rise on the outskirts of London in 1975. His apartment is on the twenty-fifth of forty floors. The very top is occupied by Mr. Royal (Jeremy Irons), the architect and owner of the building. He's also constructing four others in the vicinity with a lake planned in the middle. The building has an indoor pool and a grocery store that is used by everybody. The one quirk of the building is that all the poorer, lower-class people live on the lower floors while richer, higher-class people live higher up. Royal's intention is to create a catalyst for interaction and change. While he intends improvement, things actually start to fall apart. Living in the lower floors is Mr. Wilder. He is upset at various injustices and slights he sees--power outages that take longer to resolve down below or the pool being reserved for rich people while children (most all of whom live in the lower half of the building) can't use it. He stirs up trouble. Naturally, Laing is caught in the middle, literally and figuratively.

The movie is based on a novel by J. G. Ballard published in the 1970s as a satire of the coming economic disparity he assumed would happen under Margaret Thatcher. Laing is a bachelor and a doctor of physiology. He keeps himself in great shape and is interested in participating in all the parties both above and below him, as well as the occasional sexual encounter (it is the 1970s, after all). He's a new-comer so he gives the viewer a chance to discover things about the building. The rich people make fun of him though Royal takes a liking to Laing and shares his intentions and desires with Laing. Royal is a figurehead for the rich just as Wilder is for the poor.

Wilder is a social climber who can't get anywhere and resents it. He's a TV documentarian who has been out of work. His very pregnant wife is befriended by Laing (who winds up just taking advantage of her). Meanwhile, the building descends into chaos as the grocery store is cleaned out and the pool becomes a place for the poor people to wash clothes. Power is intermittent throughout the building; water comes and goes as well. The clash between the rich and the poor gets violent several times and conditions get so bad people wind up eating pet food from the store, and eventually the pets themselves.

As satires go, this is very unsatisfying. In spite of the claims that rich and poor are different, they both are cruel and thoughtless to each other and even to themselves. The movie tries to be realistic about the social interactions but the situation becomes so absurd that the realism is at odds with the satire. Why don't people just leave? Why aren't other authorities brought in? If the point of the film is to show how a small but isolated and stratified society will implode why are these questions brought up within the film? The film makers don't understand the role of exaggeration in satire. The satire looks really weak in comparison to movies like Brazil or A Clockwork Orange (which is clearly an inspiration and source for the movie makers). Or even Idiocracy. The ridiculous elements of the story are taken too seriously, leaving the film empty and unconvincing.

I didn't find this movie enjoyable and wouldn't recommend it.

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