elisabeth moss

Film Review: Multistory mayhem in “High-Rise”

Tom Hiddleston stars in this long-awaited adaptation of J.G. Ballard's novel about an apartment building that's a microcosm of class divisions

“My building has every convenience. It’s gonna make life easy for me.” –Talking Heads, “Don’t Worry About the Government”

“Movin’ on up, to the top, to a deluxe apartment in the sky.” –Ja’net Dubois, “Movin’ on Up (Theme from ‘The Jeffersons’)”

 

The above examples demonstrate that J.G. Ballard’s novel “High-Rise” wasn’t the only 1970s pop-cultural critique of urban living—just one of the most dystopian. In that decade, the utopian dream of planned housing developments soured into resentment and alienation, and Ballard was, as usual, at the forefront in recognizing the ways modernity and technology could really mess with people.

“High-Rise” has now, after a thirty-year effort by producer Jeremy Thomas, been made into a film, one that captures Ballard’s anxieties but fails to update them, and therefore ends up feeling almost too faithful to the book. The setting remains, vaguely, the 1970s, and Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) has just moved into the 25th floor of a 50-floor residential monolith. Laing is, as the few scenes set outside the building show, a medical instructor specializing in the brain, and one can’t help but wonder if his name is a reference to the radical 1960s psychiatrist R.D. Laing.

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