The “Hiddlestoners”—a group of feverish fans who get all hot and bothered at the mere mention of their dapper deity, Tom Hiddleston—will have a field day with High-Rise. There he is sunbathing in the nude on his balcony, a book carefully positioned between his perfectly sculpted abs and legs, obscuring The Full Hiddleston (though have no fear ladies and gents, he soon ascends, granting the audience a gander of his perfectly sculpted gluteus maximus). If the buttocks or abs aren’t your thing, you can take in the man formerly known as the naughty Norse god Loki shagging Sienna Miller’s coquettish socialite on a picnic table.
There will be GIFs. Lots of them.
But Marvel eye candy aside, you’ve never seen anything like High-Rise, Ben Wheatley’s deliciously sinister mindfuck of a film. It’s an adaption of the 1975 J.G. Ballard novel of the same name—one of late Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis’s favorite books—about a high-tech high-rise building on the outskirts of London divided by social strata that descends into chaos.
Hiddleston, who calls it the most “provocative” film of his relatively young career, plays Dr. Robert Laing, a medical school lecturer who moves into the 25th floor of the 40-story building, placing him smack in the middle of the social divide. He befriends the building’s architect, Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons), who lives lavishly in the penthouse, as well as a documentary filmmaker named Wilder (Luke Evans) and his pregnant wife Helen (Elisabeth Moss) who live on a lower floor. Laing also strikes up a romance with Charlotte Melville (Sienna Miller), a single mother on a middle floor.
Then things start to go awry. Laing is invited to an 18th century-themed penthouse party, where he’s mocked for his “peasant” attire. Electricity, water, and the garbage chutes stop working for the lower levels of the building, who become increasingly agitated over being denied access to the upper building’s amenities, including a swimming pool and high-speed elevators. In one sequence, the upper-floor aristocrats engage in an orgy to satisfy their sense of wanton entitlement.
“No, I don’t get to take part in it!” Hiddleston says of the orgy. “I was doing a play in London, Coriolanus, and I read it, met Ben, and we had lunch. I liked him so much and loved his movies. It was edgy, provocative, witty, sophisticated, and that’s why I made it. I wanted to give oxygen to those kinds of films.
“I’m so proud of it,” he continues. “I know it’s proven to be very polarizing, but that’s because the narrative itself is nonlinear, and in Ballard’s book, there are no redeeming heroes. Everybody stays in the building, and everybody accepts the New World Order—which is very dark, feral, and violent.”
Indeed, the residents become more and more reliant on the building, refusing to leave—even as things begin to unravel in a mess of Hobbesians vs. Lockeans. As Hiddleston said, High-Rise has proven very polarizing with critics and audiences alike, with most firmly settled in the “hate it” or “love it” camps.
“Film structure and audiences’ minds dictate that there has to be redemption in the end. There isn’t any in Ballard’s novel, and there shouldn’t be any in Ben’s film,” explains Hiddleston. “If they struggle, they struggle because they can’t attach to any character to root for. They think, ‘Wait! I thought I was rooting for Laing, and now he’s gone to the other side.’“I think it’s because people can’t look in the mirror, you know?” he adds. “There are appetites in the film that I see that people indulge in every day. I’ve never seen an orgy like that—nothing to that extent—but people give in to their basest instincts all the time, and the idea that it’s up there onscreen makes them uncomfortable. People think, ‘I don’t want to watch this.’”
The second half of the film begins to resemble Park Chan-wook’s Snowpiercer, as Wilder gets hold of a gun with the hope of leading a lower-floor revolution against the top floors and assassinating the architect. Laing finds himself trapped in between the two warring classes, and begins to lose his mind.
According to Hiddleston, the film is a bit of a kindred spirit to the Occupy movement and the current one led by Bernie Sanders, fighting to bridge the ever-widening gap between the haves and have-nots.
“It’s very topical. And it’s interesting that it remains topical,” he says. “There is huge, widespread anger all over the societies of the West about inequality of opportunity and division of wealth, and High-Rise is a metaphor for that. The question it asks is, ‘Why is there electricity on the top two floors and the rest of the building is in the dark? And why should there be electricity for just the top two floors? And why is the swimming pool closed to people on the lower floors?’”
High-Rise, says Hiddleston, also serves as a commentary on the recent U.S. financial crisis, a disturbing mélange of financial malfeasance, investor fraud, and lack of government oversight. No matter who ascends to the Oval Office in 2016, the actor argues it will be difficult to fix the economy, given the complexities of the system, and the amount of red tape one must plunge through to enact serious change.
“Did you see the documentary narrated by Matt Damon, Inside Job?” asks Hiddleston. “About the 17 or 18 people that keep being recycled through the top positions, who are responsible for all this? It’s very, very difficult, because the infrastructure has been put together in such a sophisticated way that you don’t know how to organize—especially at the governmental level, because one person can’t change [the economy]. If somebody who wants to change it gets in, they then have to deal with the House of Representatives, etc.”
No talk with Hiddleston is complete, of course, without the burning Bond question. Recently, the actor was reportedly spotted meeting with Bond director Sam Mendes, sparking rumors that he may in fact be in the running to replace Daniel Craig as the martini-guzzling 007. I tell Hiddleston that I hope to see Christopher Nolan one day direct a Bond film—especially since he once told The Daily Beast “I love James Bond,” and that he’s “talked with producers over the years but nothing’s ever worked out.”
“I think it would be amazing,” Hiddleston says of a Nolan-helmed Bond flick. “Interstellar is a great film. It got a bad rap because people are so intensely demanding. Ben Wheatley and I say that everybody in the world is an expert on two things: film and football. You’ll spend two years making a film and then people will just tear it apart.”