I think my ardent desire to catch High-Rise was inspired, in part, by my inability to catch it when it played at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. So when it was made available for rental early last month, I jumped at the opportunity, gave it a look-see and below are my impressions.
First, for the bad(ish) news. Overall, I was slightly disappointed in the film, in spite of some pretty solid performances and great visuals that capture the setting (mid-1970s London) and symbolize an anarchic dystopia. My disappointment stemmed from the confusion I felt at points of the story. I do attribute this to not having read the source material (a reasonable assessment). However, I generally am of the mind that the best adaptations are able to use the source as a guide and capture the spirit of the source material, meaning that one must not have had read the book, play, etc. to get the sense of what is going on when. But alas, all of that is ultimately subjective, no?
I will say that in the film’s defense, what I did get from my research and in talking to folks who have actually read J.G. Ballard’s novel, that this was always going to be a difficult narrative to transfer to the big screen. In fact, soon after the book’s release in 1975, producer Jeremy Thomas had been actively working on giving the text the celluloid treatment. He did get the project nearly off the ground in the late 1970s, with Nicolas Roeg directing the film based on an adapted screenplay by Paul Mayersberg. Eventually, that project was abandoned and another failed attempt was made with Canadian writer/director Vincenzo Natali attached to it. Which leads us this Ben Wheatley-directed, Amy Jump-scribed result. (Source: Wikipedia)
As far as the actual plot is concerned, a few details have changed, and nothing that I can see as TOO major, but the premise is the same. We open the film with our protagonist, Doctor Robert Lainge (played Tom Hiddleston), going through his daily routine in what appears to be a dilapidated ruin of a residential tower. Cue the flashback that fills the observer in on what has gotten us to this present state.
As I stated at the open, that while bits of what are going on may get a little muddled in the middle, know this much – we are on a slow and steady decline in the societal and structural (literal and figurative) order. And for those who may have missed some of the visual clues (like me), the dialogue goes a way to provide just enough exposition so you can follow the plot progression.
So, this may leave many of you wondering – is this a film worth your attention? Well, if you are into dystopian, apocalyptic-adjacent stories, you might want to check High-Rise out. If you fall into this category, my additional recommendation would be to check in with the novel to gain a sense of tone and symbolism for the material. Otherwise, you might get a little lost in the weeds.