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Death is in the Air: Startling New Images from High-Rise

Author: • Jan 31st, 2016 •

Category: architecture, Ben Wheatley, features, film, Lead Story

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A clutch of amazing new stills from Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise have been released into the wild.

Sumptuous, gleaming, saturated; their colour palette is a delight to behold. And those falling-man posters. Stunning. The film seems incredibly vivid, brutal and present.

Interestingly, Wheatley appears to be tapping into Ballardian myth beyond the source novel (especially Running Wild, with its pirate radio antenna operated by deadly children)…

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Still from High-Rise (2016; director Ben Wheatley).

“Andrew Zest, an enthusiastic radio ham, had rigged a powerful radio antenna on the roof of his house and was trying to communicate with intelligent life in a neighbouring galaxy. This complex array of wires was only discovered when it interfered with the estate’s TV security system.”

J.G. Ballard, Running Wild (1988)

Also compare…

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Still from The Atrocity Exhibition (2000; director Jonathan Weiss).

“Pirate Radio. There were a number of secret transmissions to which Travis listened: (1) medullary: images of dunes and craters, pools of ash that contained the terraced faces of Freud, Eatherly, and Garbo; (2) thoracic: the rusting shells of U-boats beached in the cove at Tsingtao, near the ruined German forts where the Chinese guides smeared bloody handprints on the caisson walls; (3) sacral: V.J.-Day, the bodies of Japanese troops in the paddy fields at night.”

J.G. Ballard, The Atrocity Exhibition (1969)

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Tom Hiddleston as Dr Robert Laing in High-Rise (2016; director Ben Wheatley).

“I know Charlotte has reservations about life here — the trouble with these places is that they’re not designed for children. The only open space turns out to be someone else’s car-park. By the way, doctor, I’m planning to do a television documentary about high-rises, a really hard look at the physical and psychological pressures of living in a huge condominium such as this one.”

J.G. Ballard, High-Rise (1975).

Compare with (thanks to Mike Bonsall for noticing this connection)…

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Teaser poster for the Metro-Centre website, used to promote Ballard’s novel Kingdom Come (2006).

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“Far below, embedded in the crushed roof of a car in the front rank, was the body of a man in evening dress. Eleanor Powell, her face like pain, swayed from the rail and pushed her way past Crosland. Laing held tightly to the metal bar, shocked and excited at the same time. Almost every balcony on the huge face of the high-rise was now occupied, the residents gazing down as if from their boxes in an enormous outdoor opera house. No one approached the crushed car, or the body embedded in its roof. Seeing the burst tuxedo and the small patent-leather shoes, Laing thought that he recognized the dead man as the jeweller from the 40th floor. His pebble spectacles lay on the ground by the front wheel of the car, their intact lenses reflecting the brilliant lights of the apartment building.”

J.G. Ballard, High-Rise (1975).

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Tom Hiddleston as Dr Robert Laing in High-Rise (2016; director Ben Wheatley).

“Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months. Now that everything had returned to normal, he was surprised that there had been no obvious beginning, no point beyond which their lives had moved into a clearly more sinister dimension. With its forty floors and thousand apartments, its supermarket and swimming-pools, bank and junior school — all in effect abandoned in the sky — the high-rise offered more than enough opportunities for violence and confrontation.

Certainly his own studio apartment on the 25th floor was the last place Laing would have chosen as an early skirmish-ground. This over-priced cell, slotted almost at random into the cliff face of the apartment building, he had bought after his divorce specifically for its peace, quiet and anonymity. Curiously enough, despite all Laing’s efforts to detach himself from his two thousand neighbours and the regime of trivial disputes and irritations that provided their only corporate life, it was here if anywhere that the first significant event had taken place — on this balcony where he now squatted beside a fire of telephone directories, eating the roast hind-quarter of the alsatian before setting off to his lecture at the medical school.”

J.G. Ballard, High-Rise (1975).

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Luke Evans as Richard Wilder in High-Rise (2016; director Ben Wheatley).

“At noon, when he arrived at Charlotte’s apartment, a second guest was already present, a television producer named Richard Wilder. A thick-set, pugnacious man who had once been a professional rugby-league player, Wilder lived with his wife and two sons on the 2nd floor of the building. The noisy parties he held with his friends on the lower levels–airline pilots and hostesses sharing apartments–had already put him at the centre of various disputes. To some extent the irregular hours of the tenants on the lower levels had cut them off from their neighbours above…

Wilder sat forward, cradling his heavy head in his fists. Laing noticed that he was continually touching himself, forever inspecting the hair on his massive calves, smelling the backs of his scarred hands, as if he had just discovered his own body…

Wilder welcomed and understood the night — only in the darkness could one become sufficiently obsessive, deliberately play on all one’s repressed instincts. He welcomed this forced conscription of the deviant strains in his character. Happily, this free and degenerate behaviour became easier the higher he moved up the building, as if encouraged by the secret logic of the high-rise.”

J.G. Ballard, High-Rise (1975).

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Jeremy Irons as Anthony Royal in High-Rise (2016; director Ben Wheatley).

“All day Anthony Royal and his wife had been packing. After lunch in the deserted restaurant on the 35th floor they returned to their apartment, where Royal spent what he knew would be his last hours in the high-rise closing down his design studio. In no hurry to leave, now that the moment had come for them to abandon the building, Royal deliberately took his time over this last ritual task.

The air-conditioning had ceased to function, and the absence of its vague familiar hum — once a source of minor irritation — made Royal restless. However reluctantly, he was now forced to recognize what he had been trying to repress for the past month, despite the evidence of his eyes. This huge building he had helped to design was moribund, its vital functions fading one by one — the water-pressure falling as the pumps faltered, the electrical sub-stations on each floor switching themselves off, the elevators stranded in their shafts.”

J.G. Ballard, High-Rise (1975).

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Jeremy Irons as Anthony Royal and Sienna Guillory as Jane Sheridan in High-Rise (2016; director Ben Wheatley).

“That night, when they had returned to their apartment on the 40th floor, Royal set about asserting his leadership of the topmost levels of the high-rise. First, while his wife and Jane Sheridan rested together in Anne’s bed, Royal attended to the alsatian. He fed the dog in the kitchen with the last of its food. The wounds on its shoulders and head were as hard as coins. Royal was more aroused by the injuries to the dog than by any indignity suffered by his wife. He had almost made Anne’s ordeal certain by deliberately postponing his search for her. As he expected, she and Jane had been unable to find an elevator when they had finished shopping at the supermarket. After being molested in the lobby by a drunken sound-man they had taken refuge in the deserted classroom.

“They’re all making their own films down there,” Anne told him, clearly fascinated by her heady experience of the lower orders at work and play. “Every time someone gets beaten up about ten cameras are shooting away.”

“They’re showing them in the projection theatre,” Jane confirmed. “Crammed in there together seeing each other’s rushes.”

“Except for Wilder. He’s waiting for something really gruesome.”

J.G. Ballard, High-Rise (1975).

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Sienna Miller as Charlotte Melville in High-Rise (2016; director Ben Wheatley).

“Sex was one thing, Laing kept on reminding himself, that the high-rise potentially provided in abundance. Bored wives, dressed up as if for a lavish midnight gala on the observation roof, hung around the swimming-pools and restaurant in the slack hours of the early afternoon, or strolled arm-in-arm along the loth-floor concourse. Laing watched them saunter past him with a fascinated but cautious eye. For all his feigned cynicism, he knew that he was in a vulnerable zone in this period soon after his divorce — one happy affair, with Charlotte Melville or anyone else, and he would slip straight into another marriage. He had come to the high-rise to get away from all relationships. Even his sister’s presence, and the reminders of their high-strung mother, a doctor’s widow slowly sliding into alcoholism, at one time seemed too close for comfort.

However, Charlotte had briskly put all these fears to rest. She was still preoccupied by her husband’s death from leukaemia, her six-year-old son’s welfare and, she admitted to Laing, her insomnia — a common complaint in the high-rise, almost an epidemic. All the residents he had met, on hearing that Laing was a physician, at some point brought up their difficulties in sleeping. At parties people discussed their insomnia in the same way that they referred to the other built-in design flaws of the apartment block. In the early hours of the morning the two thousand tenants subsided below a silent tide of seconal.

Laing had first met Charlotte in the 35th-floor swimming-pool, where he usually swam, partly to be on his own, and partly to avoid the children who used the 10th-floor pool. When he invited her to a meal in the restaurant she promptly accepted, but as they sat down at the table she said pointedly, “Look, I only want to talk about myself.”

Laing had liked that.”

J.G. Ballard, High-Rise (1975).

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Elisabeth Moss as Helen Wilder in High-Rise (2016; director Ben Wheatley).

“Wilder took her face in his hands. He felt the slim bones, as if making sure that this tenuous armature still existed. Somehow he would raise her spirits. Seven years earlier, when he had met her while working for one of the commercial television companies, she had been a bright and self-confident producer’s assistant, more than a match for Wilder with her quick tongue. The time not spent in bed together they had spent arguing. Now, after the combination of the two boys and a year in the high-rise, she was withdrawing into herself, obsessively wrapped up with the children’s most elementary activities…

Wilder watched his wife sip the liqueur. He stroked her small thighs in an attempt to revive her. “Helen, come on — you look as if you’re waiting for the end. We’ll straighten everything and take the boys up to the swimming-pool.”

Helen shook her head. “There’s too much hostility. It’s always been there, but now it stands out. People pick on the children — without realizing it, I sometimes think.” She sat on the edge of the bed while Wilder changed, staring through the window at the line of high-rises receding across the sky. “In fact, it’s not really the other residents. It’s the building.”

J.G. Ballard, High-Rise (1975).

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James Purefoy as Pangbourne in High-Rise (2016; director Ben Wheatley).

“Pangbourne knelt down on the floor, whistling a strange series of sounds at the dog. For some weeks the gynaecologist had been urging Royal to interfere with the building’s electrical switching systems, as a means of retaliating against the lower floors. This supposed power over the high-rise was the chief source of Royal’s authority with his neighbours, though he suspected that Pangbourne for one was well aware that he would never make use of it. With his soft hands and consulting-room manner the gynaecologist unsettled Royal slightly, as if he were always just about to ease an unwary patient into a compromising obstetric position — in fact, though, Pangbourne belonged to the new generation of gynaecologists who never actually touched their patients, let alone delivered a child. His speciality was the computerized analysis of recorded birth-cries, from which he could diagnose an infinity of complaints to come. He played with these tapes like an earlier generation of sorcerer examining the patterns of entrails. Characteristically, Pangbourne’s one affair in the high-rise had been with a laboratory researcher on the and floor, a slim, silent brunette who probably spent all her time tormenting small mammals. He had broken this off soon after the outbreak of hostilities.”

J.G. Ballard, High-Rise (1975).

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Still from High-Rise (2016; director Ben Wheatley).

“Laing lay back on his balcony, watching the dusk fall across the facades of the adjacent blocks. Their size appeared to vary according to the play of light over their surfaces. Sometimes, when he returned home in the evening from the medical school, he was convinced that the high-rise had managed to extend itself during the day. Lifted on its concrete legs, the forty-storey block appeared to be even higher, as if a group of off-duty construction workers from the television studios had casually added another floor. The five apartment buildings on the eastern perimeter of the mile-square project together formed a massive palisade that by dusk had already plunged the suburban streets behind them into darkness.

The high-rises seemed almost to challenge the sun itself — Anthony Royal and the architects who had designed the complex could not have foreseen the drama of confrontation each morning between these concrete slabs and the rising sun. It was only fitting that the sun first appeared between the legs of the apartment blocks, raising itself over the horizon as if nervous of waking this line of giants. During the morning, from his office on the top floor of the medical school, Laing would watch their shadows swing across the parking-lots and empty plazas of the project, sluice-gates opening to admit the day. For all his reservations, Laing was the first to concede that these huge buildings had won their attempt to colonize the sky.”

J.G. Ballard, High-Rise (1975).

..:: Previously on Ballardian:

+ Towards Year Zero: a Review of Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise
+ High-Rise: Wheatley vs Cronenberg

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4 Responses »

  1. Some good stills, the poster looks great. Really can’t wait to see this film (probably my favourite book ever) though I wonder how well it will be distributed across the UK.

  2. Any word about US distribution? It’s always seemed one of the most obviously filmable of B’s books. Great cast; really looking forward to seeing it.

  3. Thomas – according to the US distributors, the film will be available on demand via Amazon Video and iTunes from 28 April, and in cinemas from 13 May: http://www.magnetreleasing.com/highrise/

  4. Just a question about High-Rise (the book) … it might sound stupid but… does pangbourne record women’s cries during labour or the actual cries of babies? Thanks!

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