Never have I’ve been so confused and utterly uncertain about a movie, than I am about High-Rise. Adapted from a novel by the same name, High-Rise demonstrates gorgeous cinematography and a great soundtrack, but delivers such a baffling plot, that I can’t even pinpoint its main idea. And if there is an idea, most likely aimed towards social issues, its buried under so much chaos and ridiculousness, that High-Rise feels utterly weak.
I like meaningful movies that don’t aim towards explaining everything. Bring them on! I will enjoy thinking about them, I will interpret their meaning, and I will most likely love the challenge. High-Rise is one of those movies that has that deep meaning, an intense purpose to showcase an idea. The problem is, the idea is buried under so much show, that the challenge is not to understand, but to collect all the pieces.
For me, somebody who has literally spent three years learning signs, meanings and the way to search in between the lines, High-Rise was a challenge. I understood its aim, and it was to embody society through a building. You have the elites, who live in the upper floors, you have the middle class, who live in the middle, and then you have the low class, the ones who are down in the bottom. And of course there is tension between these social groups, a lot to due with the fact that the upper floors have more electricity, food etc. But when the fighting became about partying harder and louder, and fucking their problems away, High-Rise lost me in the madness.
The movie opens with Dr. Laing (Tom Hiddleston) moving into the building, the middle floors. He doesn’t have much, and since he never unpacks, it seems he doesn’t have anything. The fact that his character remains mysterious and we find out little about him, doesn’t really make him interesting though. Frankly, Laing felt unfinished as a character, and without knowing his intentions, his needs and not understanding what drove him as a man, I didn’t connect with him at all. And honestly, this goes for pretty much all the characters in the building, from the architect (Jeremy Irons), to the mistress Charlotte (Sienna Miller), and including the pregnant wife Helen (Elisabeth Moss). And if I had to pick a favorite, I would choose Wilder (Luke Evans), even though killing a dog in a pool filled with kids doesn’t seem like a good thing to do.
When the issue of electricity sparks a conflict between the higher and lower floors, the way they decide to fight is through throwing better parties. The whole building becomes a rave, that doesn’t seem to stop, and in three months, the whole building is destroyed. The police, or the law, doesn’t interfere or stop this, which is of course a reflection of nowadays society as well, some of the problems are always overlooked. By the end, the women rule the now completely destroyed apartment building, and Laing has lost his sanity.
Every element in High-Rise seems intentional, from the building to the characters and their actions, but the problem with the movie is actually quite simple – it’s over conceptualized. There are too many elements the viewer has to understand as signs and connections to society. All the characters seem to represent a certain element themselves, the building itself is a concept, the horse, the elevator and the garden all seem to be meaningful elements as well. The parties, violence, and the treatment of women, is an impression of something deeper embedded to the minds of people. By the end, it all is just too much, and maybe it works better as a book, but as a movie, High-Rise begs for simplicity and the viewer cries for help.
Finally, what bothers me the most about High-Rise is its sexism. There are three main female characters, the accepting wife, the subdued mistress, the willing wife – all are shown as weak throughout the movie. The end-game is of course different, all these women became the so called rulers, but that’s because the men have destroyed themselves. And though the women are on top eventually, after taking a stance, they never feel anything else than powerless. To portray women like that seems just awful, and to have all the female characters throw themselves at Laing just seems ridiculous. Sure, I get it, it’s Hiddleston and all, but even his charisma couldn’t save High-Rise from being the low-point of my life.