Sunday, 12 June 2016


Contemporary Media seen from the Right

by Richard Wolstencroft

High-Rise is a brilliant piece of cinema by English filmmaker Ben Wheatley, who, with this film, is now established as a major new auteur. It’s a pretty faithful adaptation of the infamous 1970s novel by the dystopian author J.G. Ballard. The film itself is actually set in a retro-futuristic 1970s, which is a nice touch, and he even uses the paperback's 70s font for the opening credits, as well as the Brutalist architecture described in the book, revealing his attention to detail.

Ballard’s novel is about a chic multi-rise housing estate, falling into disrepair, turmoil, and a civil war of sorts between floors. It was a cult hit and is bound to be a cult hit as a film. More importantly, from an Alt-Right perspective, it is also a clear metaphor for Western Civilisation today and the way things are heading.

The lower floors represent the working class, the middle floors the middle class and technocratic elite, and the larger tiered and balconied top floors represent the upper class. All comes to a zenith in the rooftop penthouse suite, owned and occupied by the building's architect himself – Anthony Royal – who is the semi-mad Prospero of proceedings.

The casting of the film will be much to the Alt-Right’s liking. There is not a single multicultural cast member in the entire film that I could spot, and I have now seen it twice. Much like The Witch.

I think the reasons for this are twofold. The director, who I would peg as a kind of left-anarchist with some rightist trimmings, does not want the issue of race to "muddy" the story. I can’t remember if Ballard did so in the novel, as I read it maybe 20 years ago, but I think this is the strategy Ballard also used.

What the movie instead focuses on is the failure and collapse of the class system – so, for whatever reason, the issue of race is avoided and everyone is Anglo-Saxon or European. Ben Wheatley’s other films also have a very 70s vibe and again almost totally non-multicultural casts. This seems to reflect the director’s own aesthetic preference – namely the portrayal of the margins and edges of a pre-multicultural British society that has been the focus of his other four features (see Kill List, Sightseers, A Field in England, and Down Terrace).

A broken mirror in which to see ourselves.
The first half of the film – about an hour or so – feels rather like our own lives in the modern West: alienated and unsatisfactory, following agendas not of our own making, thrust into a new techno/scientific environment that seems designed to frustrate our desires and plans. Then things go wrong (as they are doing all around us!).

Elevators break down, garbage shoots become blocked, and power shortages happen regularly, especially to the lower/working class floors. The High-Rise is a self contained unit – with supermarket, pool, gym, school, and other things that make leaving the building totally unnecessary. It seems the residents have all begun to suffer from a kind of communal agoraphobia brought on by the architecture.

As things go progressively wrong, people barricade themselves inside their apartments (an obvious metaphor for gated communities in the real world). Despite these ad hoc ways of coping with the growing disorder, crucial events happen that push the High-Rise over into the more apocalyptic later part of the film. The suicide of an upper-class bully, whom the main character Laing misdiagnoses with a brain tumour on purpose after he is slighted at a party, is a key element. His body lies smashed on the bonnet of a car – in a cheeky reference to Ballard's Crash – and the police don’t turn up for a day or so.

There is a growing and surreal sense of isolation in the High-Rise, as if life does not exist outside of it, and everyone’s attention turns inwards, as if spurred by the claustrophobic brutalist architecture.

Rootless hierarchy.
Another important character, Richard Wilder (my initials I note!), is a lower middle-class filmmaker, with a decidedly rebellious and semi-fascist streak (!!!). He seems to thrive in the chaos of the High-Rise. He leads a band of young people to "turn the tables" on an upper-class dinner party held around the High-Rise’s pool, which the upper class of course want to keep for themselves.

Wilder then begins to move between all the floors at random – verboten by High-Rise etiquette – causing havoc and sleeping with various women, doing drugs, and throwing wild parties, He even fights back and beats up the lame security guard Simmons, whom the upper class have hired to protect themselves. Wilder is a kind of Alt-Right catalyst for change in the High-Rise – and change it does.

In the second half of the film, the High-Rise becomes, well, like Syria or Ukraine to be perfectly honest – a kind of war zone. Nothing specific actually pushes it over into this "more sinister realm" as the film and book refer to it. It just sort of happens. There is a suggestion of some outside apocalypse or collapse under way at the sane time, which is perhaps why no one ever comes to help anymore – whereas before the police were at least able to turn up 12 hours late.

Things soon descend into Mad Max territory. Wilder makes a manic documentary that no one will ever see, about injustices and life in the dystopian High-Rise. He wants to interview and then kill Royal, the architect; and is happy to beat, rape, and abuse people to get his way. A band of the upper class twits try to force the main character Laing – a doctor, remember – to perform a lobotomy on Wilder, who they see as a clear and present threat to their dominance of the whole building. But when Wilder conducts a psychology test on Wilder, he finds him the sanest person in the whole building.

Raids on the supermarket leave its shelves bare, and life-and-death struggles occur over a tin of paint or a box of corn flakes. Royal, the architect wanders in a daze, almost oblivious to the vast mess he has created with his High-Rise, making obtuse and odd philosophical statements about "the building settling" or about it revealing a new kind of psychology or "creating opportunities" for its occupants to "break free" from their old lives. From there things work themselves to a conclusion, not entirely logical, that I won’t share with you here – as it’s well worth seeing for yourself.

Another highlight is "SOS" by ABBA, covered by Portishead, accompanying some crucial scenes in a very poetic and apt way.

The film brilliantly plays on class. It portrays the upper class elite as almost totally idiotic, like the court of Louis XVI before Le Revolution. This is very well done in a party sequence early on in the film. As for the working class, they fall quickly into barbarity, disorder, and squalor – as if they had never left it – while the middle class fight it out for resources, in the process exploring their own frenetic psychopathology and aberrant mental states, exacerbated by the brutalist architecture.

Going down? Definitely.
The cast is mostly very good to spot on: Tom Hiddleston is buff ("a poor mans Michael Fassbinder" as local Australian actress Kristen Condon so eloquently and aptly put it at a screening); Sienna Miller is great as an upper-middle-class tart and High-Rise resident, with a brainy kid a few floors above Laing; Luke Evans owns the Wilder character, and is menacing, charming, and supremely rebellious all at once; Elisabeth Moss (from Madmen) turns up as Wilder’s dowdy pregnant wife; and Jeremy Irons watches over it all as the Grand Architect of the High-Rise.

Like the sound of it yet?

Overall, High-Rise is a stunningly powerful evocation of our fallen world. As the center of blame, there is a classic mad scientist type in the guise of Royal/Irons. This suggests that the blame for our era’s various crises lies at the door of the same science and technology that gives us such great gifts, but which can malfunction and distort our psychology – especially when applied without thought and consideration, leading to drastic changes in our actual biology and inner consciousnesses. A poisoned chalice instead of a holy grail!

This film is full of transgressive ideas and tough thoughts like that, and is a great conversation piece for friends or a date. It has definite resonance for the Alt-Right, the one political movement with enough hard-headed realism to provide political solutions to avoid the total civilisational collapse portrayed in the film. Left-wing ideas of class struggle are totally mocked as openly apocalyptic, utopian, and destructive. For this reason, I have often thought J.G. Ballard is a deeply right-wing and conservative author, but not in an obvious way. You should definitely hunt down and read his last five novels.

In a nutshell High-Rise delivers. It’s a must see movie for 2016 in my view. So make it so. And enjoy a nice bottle of wine with your freshly roasted dog’s leg, all the while enjoying the view from the 26th floor of your newly acquired High-Rise apartment (the film's classy opening sequence). Bon Appetite, my friends!

Directed by Ben Wheatley
Studio Canal

Richard Wolstencroft is a filmmaker, writer, events promoter, and founder and festival Director of the Melbourne Underground Film Festival. He has an interest in Right Wing, Conservative, and Fascist philosophy, politics, and history.


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