One of the most disturbing books I’ve read in recent memory is now a film.
High Rise, JG Ballard’s 1975 classic novel, features a young doctor who moves into a high rise building on the outskirts of London, where the apartments get fancier the higher you go.
Lavish parties happen nightly, and everything you could possibly need is available in the building (including a fully-stocked grocery store). And then everything devolves into class warfare-tinged chaos and filth.
Here’s a look at the trailer:
The building’s Brutalist concrete architecture and the evil architect who designed it feature prominently in the storyline, which was originally thought to be a commentary on the state of city planning in London.
“High-Rise caught the popular imagination at a time when suspicion of top-down postwar city planning was growing. ‘A hideous warning,’ was the quote taken from the Guardian review emblazoned on the book’s cover, suggesting that Ballard’s intention was a damning critique of the inhumane direction modern architecture had taken,” explains the Guardian’s Oliver Wainwright.
In reality, the story is a little more complex. The violence and ugliness displayed by the building residents as time goes on isn’t necessarily because they feel confined by the high rise, but because the structure provides everything they need to live comfortably, giving them freedom to act out their basest impulses.
High Rise still rings true today. With ongoing controversy about “poor doors” for low-income residents in luxury buildings and supertall skyscrapers that block out the sun, a film about the anxieties that urban architecture brings out in all of us seems appropriate enough.
While I haven’t seen the film (which gets solid reviews), I’ll be first in line to see JG Ballard’s nightmare-scape come to life.
High Rise comes out May 13th in the US.
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