Last Friday, I saw High Rise, a film starring Tom Hiddleston based on the novel of the same name by JG Ballard.
High Rise is set in an all-inclusive high rise apartment building (and when I say all-inclusive, I mean supermarket, school, gym, etc.) its residents only leave to go to work each day if they must; the point of the place is that you don’t have to leave. The apartments are set up in a kind of on-the-nose classist way, with the haves dwelling on the upper floors and the have-nots living on the lower floors. Hiddleston plays Dr. Robert Laing, a bachelor whose sister’s recent death sent him looking for a fresh start. He lives a little more than halfway up — 25th floor. At first, everything is fine. But after the electricity and other resources are monopolized by the rich, things descend (very quickly) into a frenzy of violence and depravity. People start killing and raping and stealing. Trash piles up. People stop going to work and sending their children to school. The food in the supermarket rots because nothing new is being ordered. And nobody leaves. They’re happy to fight this self-made war within the apartment building.
According to synopses of the book I’ve read online, the people are content to live so savagely because, in the building, they can finally give into urges that would be unacceptable out in the real world. So despite the danger they face every single day, they prefer to remain in their apartments.
Maybe if I read the book, I’ll be able to suspend my disbelief. In a novel, you spend time with the characters & their thoughts, and things unfold much more slowly — so you have the space you need to connect with what’s going on. I couldn’t suspend my disbelief while watching the film. Firstly, this descent into madness takes place in less than three months. ?!?!?!? Secondly, the city skyline is visible from the apartment balconies AND these people have cars. Are you telling me NOBODY thought to leave? Everybody insisted on staying? They weren’t completely cut off from the world (as I said, most of them worked in the city). Maybe some occupants left, but the filmmakers decided not to spend any time on them.
Thirdly, why did the supermarket run out of stuff? Now this one, I do have a guess about. I think the rich wanted to teach the poor a lesson by withholding resources (the designer of the buildings lived on the top floor of this particular building. He and his wife owned it.), and then things just got out of hand and eventually even they grew accustomed to killing their own pets for food (yes, this is what happens). But somehow, even this explanation rubs me the wrong way. Would people who are used to having the best of everything toss that aside as quickly as the people who didn’t have much at all? I’m not saying they wouldn’t do so eventually, but the speed with which these things happen…I think that might be my biggest problem. That, and the fact that the film spends less time on helpful commentary/explanation and more time on beautifully stylized shots of the action. The descent into chaos happens in a montage, and it made me want to punch someone.
The film itself is like candy for your eyes, which is cool. And the style is definitely fitting of the era the story is set in (the 1970s). I just wish there’d been a little more help from the director as far as getting me on board with what’s going on in this world. But Hiddleston is hot, so there’s that.
He’s like…creepy-hot. Hahaha. Maybe I should do a post on my favorite “creepy-hot” guys.
I’ve also been reading Crash (another novel/festival of weirdness by JG Ballard) for like…three or four weeks. I generally read quickly, and the story is only 185 pages long, but because of Ballard’s concentration on the same, very specific & very graphic details, my brain got tired and I needed to take a few breaks. He went to medical school, which reeeaaallly shows in his writing. Especially in a book about bodies, like Crash, which is about a man who is sexually aroused by car crashes and the multitude of injuries they make possible, and thus starts causing accidents on purpose. It’s about more than that, but you might never visit this page again if I really got into it, so I’ll just leave you with that. XD
Have you read any JG Ballard? What are your thoughts? Do you find Hiddleston creepy-hot, too?