If you have not read the book yet, you should definitely watch this movie!
High Rise (world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, 13 September 2015) is based on the eponymous book by the British author James Graham Ballard. Neither the movie nor the book are as easy as they might at first seem. Both of them, in their different ways ( because you can not really compare the book with the film), have a depth that is not evident if you only watch the movie once, maybe even while doing something else.
But let’s start from the beginning. High Rise starts with its end, when Doctor Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) walks through the nearly destroyed tower, looking for something to eat. On his way he kills a dog, roasts it, eats the dog and looks quite happy with himself while doing so. And if you are asking yourself now: Why was the tower destroyed? Why is he eating a dog? What is going on in this movie? Trust me, if I had not read the book before, I would have asked myself exactly the same questions.
The movie is set in the 1970’s somewhere in London. Dr. Robert Laing is freshly divorced and moves into the luxurious and modern tower block designed by the architect Anthony Royal ( Jeremy Irons). Soon these two meet and build a not so simple friendship. Dr. Laing lives in the middle of the tower and Anthony right at the top, but Dr. Laing has connections to all levels of the skyscraper. He is invited to a birthday party on the lower floors, where the aggression felt towards the higher levels becomes clear through the host Richard Wilder ( Luke Evans), who talks about how unfair it is that the members of the upper class are allowed to do anything they want while the members of the lower floors have to sit back and watch even though they could do so much better. Another day Dr. Laing is invited to a high fashion party by the architect himself. At this party is very clear that the upper floors dislike the lower floors as much as the lower floors hate those above them.
The modern conveniences provided on site allow residents to become fairly uninterested in the outside world. The building has nearly everything: a gym, supermarkets, a pool, bowling, doctors and so on and so forth. This means the inhabitants only have to leave for work.
After some time the first problems begin. Infrastructure and electricity begin to fail and the supermarkets do not offer new or fresh products. The tension between the floors starts to rise and leads to violence, supermarkets become a battlefield and the tower descends into a class war between the floors.
For me High Rise is more than a movie about the class culture in Great Britain. Of course, the class system is one of the main problems in the movie and in some way the film clearly criticizes it, but I would go a bit deeper.
The movie really concentrates on the male characters Richard Wilder, Anthony Royal, and Dr. Robert Laing. These personalities, for me, represent the three agents in Sigmund Freud’s structural model of the psyche. That means that the skyscraper would represent the psychic apparatus.
Richard Wilder who lives on the lower floors, is the id. He is impulsive, trusts and follows his instincts and drives, and has nearly no morals. He is selfish and not interested in the slightest in what the consequences of his actions will be or what they will mean for the people around him.
The super-ego is represented by Anthony Royal, he is the critical and moralizing part in this constellation. Royal is really critical of the people around him, including his wife but especially of himself. He works in his building continuously to try and improve it for everyone and seeks contact to the lower floors.
The ego is organized and realistic. It somehow flows between the desires of the id and the super-ego. Before he moves into the tower, Dr. Robert Laing is a stable man and knows who he is. That changes quickly and he starts to be uncertain and does not know where he belongs, what is right or wrong, and which floor in the tower suits him the most.
In short: the movie High Rise is a masterpiece! It is visually stunning, thoroughly thought out, accompanied by absolutely fitting music, and, if you think it through, more than a film about British class culture in the 70’s.