High-Rise Novel and Film Review

“Even their insistence on educating their children, the last reflex of any exploited group before it sank into submission, marked the end of their resistance.”

It may be listed as science-fiction and dystopian fiction, but there are hidden (exaggerated) truths within this story.

High-Rise explores the idea that a residential high-rise building becomes an isolated environment and drives its inhabitants into enforcing societal rules within the building. The lower your floor, the lower your status and privilege. Grocery stores and recreational areas conveniently separate the classes. The top floors are therefore reserved for the rich, who throw luxurious parties and are often wasteful and egocentric leaving fewer resources for the residents on the lower floors, a similar idea to The Hunger Games, where the people in The Capitol are wasteful while the districts are starving. This idea on its own is something to be noted, as this new, flashy building’s lowest classes are air-hostesses, film technicians etc. Not in the least bit actually poor. The classes are therefore internally created. Imagine a world without poverty and homelessness, and then imagine a world where those who are currently middle class take their place in the social ladder.

Dr. Robert Laing, played by and narrated by Tom Hiddleston is our lead character, the character we would naturally want to relate to, but will soon find that that is hard to do.

He is initially invited to the high class parties, as he befriends the resident living on the top floor. The top floor resident, “The Architect” is the man who designed and owns the building. He observes his residents and how his structure reacts to them, as in this story, the structure is part of the story. It’s not only seen as the location in which the events take place, it is a character whose state affects the other characters. The more broken the building becomes, the more broken the people that are staying there.


The unfair split of resources causes a logical amount of complaints which quickly escalates to an illogical amount of chaos. Murder! Affairs! Eating a dog! Yet, somehow, within the high-rise, it makes sense that this could happen, it makes sense that this absolutely had to happen.

With a story this complicated, it is tricky to display the true meaning in film. Tom Hiddleston was perfectly cast as Laing, he narrated the story completely disconnected from his character, remaining neutral and speaking about Laing in third person. Eerie, and undoubtedly intentional.

A noticeable difference between the novel and the movie is Laing’s sister. In the movie, it is briefly mentioned that she died, whereas in the novel, she plays a key role. Laing often spends time with her, worrying about her and caring for her and is strangely attracted to her. Yes, attracted to her. He realises it is weird as he thinks it, but he continues to think about it. Perhaps Wheatley was not in the mood to portray incest along with every other stomach-turning thing the movie included.

 “Let the psychotics take over. They alone understood what was happening.”

And that is exactly what happened in J. G. highrise250Ballard’s novel which was written 42 years ago, yet, it was written so well, that the writing is timeless.

In an interview, Ballard said, “People aren’t
moving into gated communities simply to avoid muggers and housebreakers, they’re moving into gated communities to get away from other people. Even people like themselves, that’s the curious thing”.

It started out with walls around our houses, moved up to gated complexes, and now entire countries want walls around themselves. A curious thing indeed.

Ben Wheatley’s adaptation of High-Rise was as good as it could be, however, certain details are always lost when books are adapted into films, and this is no exception. The novel had the opportunity to thoroughly explain the complete destruction of our current economic and social system and its inhabitants’ minds, leaving me shaken and reconsidering my life choices.

And on that note, happy Monday.

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