Director Ben Wheatley Talks Surreal, Dystopian Film 'High-Rise'
Published Sep 14, 2015Singular British writer-director Ben Wheatley (Kill List, Sightseers, A Field in England) just might have outdone himself with the audacious, ambitious new film High-Rise. Starring Tom Hiddleston, the movie explores class war as depicted in a towering skyscraper, with the wealthy aristocrats living in hedonism on the top floors and less fortunate families quarantined to the lower floors. Eventually, things devolve into surreal chaos.
High-Rise was based on J.G. Ballard's classic 1975 novel. For Wheatley, reading that was a transformative experience. "I've had different experiences with reading the book and coming to it at different ages," he said at a TIFF press conference. "I read it first when I was 17 with a whole group of books which were kind of entry-level esoteric — so like Naked Lunch, Crash, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. At that point it was more like a rite of passage. You know, you read that book and smoke dope and do acid.
"When I came back to it as an adult, the thing that struck me about it was the shifting sands of the way that Ballard writes, where you think it's going to be one thing and it confounds you and you think it's going to be another thing," he continued. "That really intrigued me, that I felt like he was kind of manipulating my understanding of what narrative was."
Similarly, Wheatley hopes High-Line will be a film that audiences can revisit and take something different from every time. "I like films that take time to gestate in your mind," he said. "One that struck me the most was when I first watched The Shining. I'm not drawing comparisons, obviously, but first of all, I watched it and it had been built up massively as the greatest horror film ever made. When I blindly watched it when I was 13 I went 'ugh,' and then I watched it again and again and again I realized that it was amazing.
"I think what I've learned from that, and we've tried in all the films we've done, is that there's kind of hidden rhythms and watchability in the movie," he continued. "So you take some time to think about it, and as you come back to it there's more and more information to be gathered from it."
When asked if he believes whether or not society is collapsing, he offered a blunt (albeit tongue-in-cheek) yes. Later, he opened up about why he thinks audiences are obsessed with dystopian tales. "The collapse of society isn't really about the collapse of society at all," he said. "It's about us and our deaths and the fear of that and the fear of loss of control. You're a unit in the whole big thing, and the whole big thing could collapse as well. It's a whole projection of that."
Further, he sees the zombie craze as fitting into a similar world. "The zombie film is a civil war movie, isn't it," he said. "'Society have turned against me, I've got to fight my way out,' but we'll turn them into zombies because it's distasteful to shoot your neighbours. I think that's certainly the thing with dystopia. You start to see, you know. You are going to die. You are. It's a bit depressing, and it's kind of our way of dealing with it a bit."