There is a great quote from the 1988 Tim Burton classic Beetlejuice, when Lydia explains why she is able to see the ghosts of her new home’s former inhabitants, “I, myself, am strange and unusual.” It is something I recite at times to people when it seems like my strange ways may make their so called normal brains implode. Lydia Deetz gave the freaks and geeks of the world a mantra. We use it and love it. High-Rise is a movie that was definitely channeling its inner Lydia.
Strange and unusual. Both are words I would use to describe a movie I am quite honestly still processing. But do not be mistaken. While I found this movie weirder and often times harder to follow than Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales, I actually liked the movie. It perplexed me. At moments it was downright confusing and I literally found myself asking, out loud, in the theater, “What the f@*k is going on?”
Tom Hiddleston plays the main character, Laing, a doctor in the field of physiology, the newest tenant in the building who finds himself immediately pulled into the drama and hierarchy that plagues the lives of the individuals living there. The pulling is done by Charlotte, played by Sienna Miller, a single mom who seems to be popular and elusive all in one. She is the ultimate go between character, loved by the lower level lodgers, envied by the so called aristocratic female residents of the upper levels, and desired by men from every floor of the building. Charlotte is mysterious and elusive, however her character is never really fully developed and even after the end credits roll, you find yourself still asking questions.
Those questions are not limited to Miller’s character however. As each character in this film progresses they become wilder, more peculiar, and increasingly content with the madness and mayhem that begins to run rampant throughout the structure. Madness and mayhem you say? Why yes, after an electrical outage that sends the occupants out into the hallways for an alcohol and drug induced candle lit party, things start to take a dark turn. Lower level residents are fed up and frustrated with those that think they are better than them on the higher floors and the elite seem determined to flaunt their wealth and power while not giving a second thought to the repercussions.
The weird thing is, there is never a clear explanation as to why the power outages send the residents into such a violent psychosis. Its clear from shots in the movie and the fact that many of them are still leaving the building on a daily basis to go to their jobs that you could simply just leave the apartment building rather than stay there and spiral into a post-apocalyptic fight for survival. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the why that’s left unanswered. To the point where I turned to my friend upon leaving the theater and asked, “What the hell did I just watch?”
The movie is strange and at times a bit all over the place, you get the sense that maybe there is something more sinister going on since the architect, known as Royal and played by Jeremy Irons, is very strange with a touch of creepy and seems to have the attention of the women from lower and higher floors alike. There are also a few instances of the building being referred to in a way that it has taken on a life of its own, not possessed really, but with an all-consuming hold over its inhabitants.
If you’re looking for a movie with a clear plot, which brings you to a climax and resolves itself in under 2 hours, this is definitely not for you. It leaves you feeling uneasy and unsatisfied, kind of like a plate of Chinese food that you now will taste delicious but leave you feeling hungry again in a few hours. However, if you find yourself like Lydia Deetz, identifying with things that are strange and unusual, then I recommend seeing this thought provoking, decadent, yet strange journey into the lives of people so obsessed with literally climbing the social ladder or asserting their dominance over the lower rungs that they would allow themselves to descend into madness in order to do so. Waaaaaaiiiiiiit….did this movie just turn into a social commentary? Hmmmmmmm……