High-Rise is rated 15 for strong violence, sex, very strong language
The Scoop – Stylish, gripping, possessed of a powerful nasty streak, High-Rise is not for the fainthearted.
Handsome, inscrutable Dr. Laing (Tom Hiddleston) moves into an apartment in a newly built high-rise block. The tower has every amenity, from a gym to a swimming pool and supermarket. He meets people from the floors below him – Wilder (Luke Evans) and his pregnant wife Helen (Elizabeth Moss) – and from the better-appointed floors above, including Charlotte (Sienna Miller) and the building’s penthouse-dwelling architect, Royal (Jeremy Irons).
Something is wrong in the tower. The extravagant lifestyles of those on the upper floors lead to simmering resentments beneath, spilling over into violence and anarchy. The thin veneer of civilisation will be peeled back to reveal the horrors beneath.
I’ve seen and – can I say liked? – two of Ben Wheatley’s previous films, Sightseers and A Field in England. The former’s blackly comic sensibility hit the spot for me, while the latter, a hallucinatory mood piece set during the English Civil War, certainly left its own nightmarish impression. High-Rise finds itself somewhere on the tonal spectrum between the two.
‘I was shocked by that film,’ I overheard one audience member saying on the way out of the screening. ‘Shocked.’ Having had some idea of what to expect both from Wheatley and from Ballard, I can’t say that I quite shared her feeling, but some sequences undeniably make for tough viewing. Though the nastiness is leavened by humour – and by the sense of the entire thing taking place within its own surreal confines – it’s also disturbing and prolonged. (Just to give you a flavour: remember my fears for the tiny dog in Hail Caesar? There’s a dog in this film that doesn’t make it past the prologue.)
However, for at least the first two-thirds of its running time, I was totally captivated by High-Rise. Wheatley is a master of atmosphere, and the film swims with unforgettable, darkly beautiful images. From the future-70s production design to the gallery of impeccable performances, there’s much to appreciate – even if you’re watching through your fingers.
- What was your initial reaction to High-Rise? Have you read J.G Ballard’s novel, and if so, do you think this was a good adaptation? If you have seen any of Ben Wheatley’s other films, how does High-Rise compare?
- How would you describe the dystopian world created by the film? What does the production design tell us about the nature of this world?
- What impression do we get of Dr. Laing, and what qualities does Tom Hiddleston bring to the role? One character describes Laing as a ‘social climber’; what do you think really motivates him? In your view, is it off-putting or intriguing to have the film’s protagonist be such a blank slate?
For all its inconveniences, Laing found that he was satisfied with life in the High-Rise. – Laing
- Which of the film’s characters were you most interested in, and do you think any of them were portrayed sympathetically? Is there anybody who isn’t corrupted by the tower? Do you think we are supposed to view each character as a human individual, or as representative of something larger?
- What do you think of the tower block as a metaphor for a class-based society? What insights might this metaphor offer us? What is the significance of the Margaret Thatcher speech we hear at the end of the film?
I conceived this building to be a crucible for change. – Royal
- Did you find the film funny, and why, or why not? How might the humour in High-Rise change how we perceive the story – particularly its violence and social satire?
- How does the degradation in the tower begin, and what form does it take? Were you shocked by any of what we see in these scenes, and why, or why not? Do you think the filmmakers went too far? What points are being made about civilisation and human nature?
Let’s start with the nuts and bolts. The facial mask simply slips off the skin. – Laing
- J.G Ballard’s original novel was written in 1975. In what ways is the story relevant to our society today? What social and spiritual sicknesses does it diagnose? How did you interpret the story’s ending?