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Laramie Movie Scope: High-Rise

Civilization falls apart in an apartment building

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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January 11, 2017 -- This dystopian, apocalyptic tale of the downfall of civilization is set in a high rise apartment building. At first, the building is sterile, joyless, formal and efficient. But as the plumbing and electrical systems break down, the parties become celebrations of wild hedonism, the garbage piles up and the building takes on a lived-in look, transformed by the residents who have taken it over.

The central character in this strange tale is a doctor, Laing (played by Tom Hiddleston of the “Thor” movies) who drives to work each day from this massive building to a medical school where he teaches anatomy to students. There are some graphic scenes of Laing peeling the skin off the skull of a cadaver, causing one medical student to faint. He goes through the same dull routine every day.

The film opens with Laing living in the badly leaking building, cooking a dog leg over an open fire. A neighbor shows him the body of a building supervisor he killed because he was too annoying. Laing says he likes living in the building now that not many residents are left in it.

Then the film goes back in time to when Laing first moved into the building, to show how all this savagery came about. He is nagged by a maintenance man about plugging up a garbage disposal. He is invited to parties, where he feels totally out of place. He is bullied by an employee of Royal (Jeremy Irons of “The Man Who Knew Infinity”) the owner and architect of the building.

Laing agrees to play racquetball with Royal, but makes it immediately clear he will not be intimidated. Later, he is thrown out of a costume party at Royal's penthouse for bringing cheap wine. The penthouse has animals, dogs, a horse, a goat, and gardens. A maid is shown cleaning up after one of the dogs soiled a carpet in the penthouse. At the party, a subdued instrumental version of music from “S.O.S.,” an ABBA song, is heard (this is Clint Mansell's movie soundtrack arrangement). A plaintive version of the ABBA song itself is also heard later in the movie (performed by Portishead).

The first rebellion against the rigid order of the building is by a renegade TV personality, Wilder (Luke Evans of “Furious 7”) who crashes a pool party with a bunch of children from a birthday party downstairs, drowning the dog of a TV star in the process. When he notices the police don't come to investigate a suicide he decides to do a documentary film about the building. The suicide itself (of a man jumping off the building onto a parked car) is filmed in a unique way. The falling body is somehow shown gradually caving in the hood of the car in super slow motion.

The same building employee who bullied Laing and Wilder is attacked and severely beaten by Wilder at a party. Nobody intervenes except Laing. Rapes also occur at the increasingly wild parties. Later, a group of people from the upper floors gang up on Wilder and beat him severely, but he survives to seek revenge. Convinced that Royal stole his wife, he seeks access to the penthouse. This quirky movie has an odd poster reference to the equally quirky 1966 dark comedy film “Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment” about another guy who went crazy after his wife left him. This also happened to Wilder, causing him to go over the edge.

Laing has sex with several women in the building, including a pregnant woman who has abandoned her husband and children. Laing is approached by the upper floor ruling group who fear Wilder. They want Laing to lobotomize Wilder. Laing gives the increasingly wild and woolly Wilder a mental examination and declares him the sanest man in the building.

At one point, a policeman comes to the building and talks to Royal about the strange goings on. Royal tells him to overlook it all. Royal, like Laing, seems to be unusually comfortable with the new order of things. He sees it as a social experiment. People get into violent fights over the few remaining items in the building's store. The electricity and water stop working. People start eating pets, and the animals in the penthouse, too. There are hints of cannibalism.

This can be viewed as a very dark comedy about how quickly society can break down when basic services are cut off. I got to thinking about how quickly America would fall apart if the Russians hacked our power grids. I'd give us about two weeks. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2017 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)