After my previous attempt only got me to the half-way point, I hit “Play” on HIGH RISE and was immediately hit with a montage. Clint Mansells’ classy score played over images of the residents of the building looting the market and partying and engaging in debauched behavior.
There were three or four montages to come. It’s like the movie makers got to the scenes in which the building’s residents became caricatures of consumers and just went “And you know how this goes.” Would’ve been cheaper to just show title cards with ditto marks.
It’s worth seeing HIGH RISE to understand why certain books cannot be faithfully adapted for the screen. It’s just tough to translate Ballard’s work because he was an uncanny talent, his work unique–if everyone could replicate his work, he wouldn’t have been J.G. Ballard. Many filmmakers can pull off, say, a comic book adaptation because by their nature comics have many authors who’ve shaped and re-shaped the properties–it’s not jarring when a movie re-shapes the material again.
In Ballard’s work, we not only see the ways the characters adapt to the world turning into a crystalline jungle or travel a seemingly endless city or live in the ruins of an abandoned nuclear testing grounds, we FEEL it. These characters conform, not to society as we know it, but their environment/society as it is thrust upon them.
In HIGH RISE we see these blank, bland people going about their lives in a pricey apartment building. When their environment changes, they just get along. We don’t feel that, we just see it. In the first half, the characters are quirky and cool to their world and to each other. In the second half, we detach and just look at them–we didn’t care about their feelings or well-being before, when they were in recognizably human contexts, so why would we care now, when they’re puttering along in a world we would never stand for?
This is all about class, about consumerism. In the second half the building becomes a wasteland. It’s a world that would fit right in in THE BED-SITTING ROOM, 28 DAYS LATER or DAWN OF THE DEAD if we got out of the building. Here the zombies aren’t monsters…they’re US! British filmmakers are so interested in class and have a need to say things like “Americans think they have no class system, but they do!” In fact Americans are as conscious as any Brit about this, but we’re just aware our class system is divided differently from the British one (or what it used to be, about birth vs. money).
OK. So The Rich are bad, and people are so disconnected from reality they’ll just huddle in their homes long after they’ve become unlivable. The message is an easy one, not controversial in the least.
HIGH RISE is a well-made, dead movie. I recommend it to folks who like Ballard’s work. Even though I didn’t like it much, I suspect I’ll think about it. The art direction and the decaying world it shows are interesting as images. It’s just too bad J.G. didn’t live to show them how it should be done–if he could.