By Daniel J Broadley
“Is that a horse?” asks Dr Laine (Tom Hiddleston) on the 40th story garden terrace.
“Probably” replies the architect Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons).
This little snippet of dialogue perfectly sums up the surreal madness of High Rise, enough so that it’d make Ballard himself proud. Ben Wheatley’s screen adaptation of Ballard’s novel about life in a ‘luxury’ high rise building crumbling in to anarchy is a fitting tribute to the acclaimed postmodern novelist. A must see film for 2016. Especially if, like me, you’re a Ballard fan.
The inspiration for High Rise can be seen with a walk in to Poplar, East London. The Balfron Tower – a 26-story Brutalist tower block. The real life architect of this building, Brutalist pioneer Erno Goldfinger, was also supposedly the base inspiration for the sinister architect Athony Royal (Jeremy Irons). Many people say High Rise is a microcosm of a collapsing capitalist society, but Ballard himself says it’s all about the mind.
The inhabitants of High Rise supposedly represent different layers of the human psyche. The bottom floors, where the lower class residents live, are the ‘id’. Mans primal desires. The top penthouses are the superego; our conscience. The middle floors form the ego, that which mediates between the id and superego. Just one of the many ways to read in to this ambiguous narrative.
Dr Robert Laing moves in to his new apartment seeking peaceful anonymity, but other residents have no intention of leaving him alone. He struggles to establish himself and finds himself night after nights in drink, drug and sex fueled parties that flow in to the corridors and swimming pools. Some students dream for a halls-of-residence, no doubt, but this is no dream; this is a Ballardian nightmare. The unfair sharing of electricity causes friction between the floors and before long, total anarchy ravages the building.
“For all its inconveniences, Laing was satisfied with life in the High Rise” the narration opens as Laing chomps on the architects barbecued dog; a flash forward to the end of the film and just one of the many grim and surreal scenes to come. When asked how life in the high rise is going for him at work, Laing replies “prone to fits of mania, narcissism and power failure”. This black humour is peppered throughout the film, seasoned to just the right amount.
The film is also beautifully shot and it perfectly portrays the surreal dystopia of Ballard’s novel. Shots of the tower blocks from the car park see them rise up like dinosaurs whilst the lifts are mirrored on all sides, creating a never ending kaleidoscope of whomever is inside.
With tremendous acting all round and flawless screenwriting from Amy Jump, Ben Wheatley’s screen adaptation of the novel by J. G. Ballard is bold, faithful and downright insane. You’ll struggle to find anything wrong with this film.
High Rise is currently screening at HOME cinema, where it’s just £5 ticket for students. Watch the trailer below: