The High-Rise

Last night I watched the British film “High-Rise”. It’s a pretty dystopian and feral parable about the neo-liberal economic system.

For most of the film, I couldn’t really make out what was going on. It was only at the very end, when the movie concludes with a speech by Margaret Thatcher on the virtues of capitalism, that the meaning of the High-Rise becomes clearer. There are parallels here with the Korean post-apocalyptic film Snowpiercer and with The Matrix.  High-Rise might be taken as a musing on the meaning of “chaotic transition”.

At the top of the High-Rise is the architect of the building, appropriately named “Royal”, who lives sumptuously, while below him, on the lower levels, live the various ranks of society, with the lower classes living near the bottom. Over the course of the film, the residents of the High-Rise are driven mad by the conditions of life in the building, a madness which spreads even to the architect and the upper levels of the high-rise. The residents of the High-Rise gradually, and uncannily, revert to barbarism even as all the technical amenities of modern living are supplied by the building itself. The theme there is that the progress of technology is matched by the feralisation of the human. Indeed, one of the chief characters in the film, a feral inhabitant of the lower levels of the High-Rise, is named even “Wilder”.

It brought to mind very similar dystopian movies about human feralisation, like the Brazilian-Canadian joint film Blindness or the aforementioned Bong Joon-ho film Snowpiercer. In Snowpiercer, the Earth has become barren and devoid of life owing to a failed experiment in geo-engineering, and the remnants of humanity all live on a train called “Snowpiercer” that circles the Earth aimlessly. Here, the ranks and classes of society represented as floors in High-Rise are the railcars of the train, with the exploitable mass of the lower ranks occupying the rear cars of the train, and the architect “Royal” in High-Rise is the chief engineer Wilford in Snowpiercer. As you move closer to the front of the train, the conditions of life are increasingly sumptuous and hedonistic, until the occupants of the rear cars revolt, and the same chaos and feralism overwhelms the train.

All very much alternative interpretations of the meaning of “the end of history”.

PostScript: I probably should have noted that there is a deep sense of irony at play in these dystopian films, perhaps the main irony being that at the very time that the mind believes it has become lord and master of Nature and the Earth, and can reshape Nature and the Earth in its image and in accordance with its desires — the basic meaning of “the Anthropocene” — that man’s fate becomes itself brutalisation and feralism with the “return of the repressed”. Nature bats last, as they say. It would be a cosmic irony indeed if the conquest of Nature was attended at the same time by the negation of “Man”.


One response to “The High-Rise”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    The headline in today’s Guardian is about the Anthropocene.

    It is accompanied by another response by Martin Rees about why there are grounds for optimism (but which I don’t find very convincing, and which is self-contradictory. A “post-human” future wouldn’t be properly speaking an “Anthropocence” any longer).

    But it remains to be seen, really, whether the immediate future of the Anthropocene resembles Rees’s optimistic projection or resembles that of these film-makers. As it stands presently, the weight of evidence is largely on the side of the artists, rather than the scientists.

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