It is around a year since it was released, this adaptation of the classic J.G.Ballard novel from 1975 it was shown on television last week and I watched it this weekend. I am a big fan of the books and fiction of Ballard and Ben Wheatley, the director of this film has been making increasingly good and very original films for the last few years in the UK.
News of this adaptation made me very curious at the time and Wheatley even managed to pull in top Hollywood star Tom Hiddleston (Loki in the Marvel Avengers and Thor movies) and others such as Jeremy Irons, Luke Evans and others familiar faces.
Alright, so I had not read the book of High Rise but was familiar with the story concept and it seemed similar to a few other Ballard books he had written after that one which I had enjoyed. Over the years there had been a number of occasions where his books were almost put on the big screen or can be seen to have obviously influence a good number of science fiction and thriller films. The one clear adaptation which stands out was the David Cronenberg directed Crash-a version of probably the most famous and notorious Ballard book. Like that story and some others from Ballard, High Rise explores the psychologically dark and uncomfortable interests and desires of mankind in modern or near future times.
So from the slick poster artwork and trailers and knowledge of Ballard fiction I might have been expecting something extremely brutal, disturbing and challenging. Is this what I got?
To a degree yes but I may have been let down in some ways. It did not have to be just like the cold and perverse tale of Crash, and this film was actually even surprisingly humorous and retained a more restrained kind of satire I felt.
Like a number of Ballard stories it looks at how society could go over the brink and breakdown starting from what we see as the perfect example of civilized and decent western post-industrial living. With this tale, in what is built as a state-of-the-art high rise building we see the divides of class and society stacked over each other. It only takes a short of amount of time before the rich and poor begin to antagonise each other to the most absurd and extreme ways.
I was expecting Tom Hiddleston to lead the story in a more engaging way but he seemed possibly distant-but then Ballard lead characters can often seem like that. The actor Luke Evans actually puts in a very good lively performance as the rage fueled and frustrated tv actor, along with one of the better performances from Jeremy Irons in a long time.
It was fairly obvious to see clear influences of the director in the style of visuals and editing-hints of Stanley Kubrick, Nic Roeg. The music often bringing to mind A Clockwork Orange.
I think one main problem for me was that the director decided to set the film in the 1970’s when the actual book was written. if the book like other Ballard novels was intended to be set in simply a near future then this may have confused things for me. Was it that the director wanted to say things about that period of time or did he just want to really make a period film, paying homage to some of his favourite films and directors of that time?
This film then is not set in a near future for us, but a kind of alternative 1970’s where things spiral horribly out of control. I believe that I did read the director saying that the political climate of that time had interesting parallels with today and so did feel like an interesting place to put the film.
Would I personally like to see a version of High Rise set in our modern times or a contemporary new near future? The story or book may now be dated to some extent and has influenced a few films over the years already. Will our civilized capitalist society still yet unravel and tear itself to pieces? Any future may yet be possible…
James E. Parsons is the author of Orbital Kin and Minerva Century both available from Amazon, Waterstones, Barnes & Noble, WHSmith and other good bookshops internationally now. His first horror novel is due in 2017.