Though the initial response to High-Rise is to coin it as a dystopian society, it is truly a utopia cataloging its regression into a dystopian society. The architect functions as the leader, idealist, and creator of the perfect forms of living. Though met with some adversity and ignorance it is not until the point of willful regression (finding his wife in potential danger) does he leave from his post of drafting and aspirations of improvement. In theory, all of the Architect’s will would create a utopia but the flawed nature of society, the primalistic state of nature creates a dynamic of class warfare within the society that is present.
The buildup of the architect’s weirdly unattached, ominous, yet somehow amicable traits led the story through his ambiguous relations and desires. The architect sought to distance himself from the dynamic of the building, being an omnipotent overseer, but secretly overruled the building through women and his upper-class hand. As things fail and anarchy reigns he had difficulty appearing as a neutral ruler. This incited Richard Wilder to seek out, document, and eventually kill the Architect. As Wilder placed more and more of his scapegoated offenses of the upper class onto the architect the story of High-Rise was built. This led up to the climax of the death of the Architect and the subsequent death of Wilder.
I think there are a lot of subtle points about the function and representation of women in this film. Because it is a micro-chasm of what actual societies function like, it is relatively realistic that the women take a more passive role in this film. Helen Wilder is hardly more than a plot catalyst object. She is the idea holding Richard Wilder back; she is the source of Wilder’s anger at the end of the movie at her disappearance; she is a momentary source of pleasure as Laing sought to cling to fleeting neutrality during the class war. Helen is a flat character that dynamically forms to fit the role of disparity and struggle as Wilder’s wife. She functions as being a tool for a very strong character as Wilder. Charlotte Melville was a socialite with the goal of doing, experiencing, and functions as a plot device more often than not, rather than being an in depth character. She was a sex object for Liang, she was a party thrower, and she was the mother of the Architect’s child. The women within the upper class function as catalysts and representatives of the general psyche of the higher classes. The lack of well developed, plot-integral women help identify the regression of the movie into a dystopia. With modern ideals being placed onto the idea of a utopia, even a preferable chaotic, barbaric, rooted natural law society should have heavier female representation. High-Rise characterizes a typical pre-feminist life a century ago. While the perfection of a utopia is completely subjective, I think this was intentional by the director, Ben Wheatley, to heavily plant the disparity between upper and lower class as a struggle between men as it has characteristically stayed in the past.
Ways of Seeing by John Berger explains the relationships between men and women through women. “Men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at” Women in High-Rise act as uses for men, they appear next to men being strategically tied to them throughout the film, where and when they appear is integral to the plot. The men act and make decisions. The women plan their appearances to their class, such as the classy women of the upper class’ fluffy skirts, meaningless intercommunications, and inability to contribute to the male plans. The degeneration of the upper class is documented by the female’s messy hair, lack of clothes, and eventual praise of orgies. The women of the lower classes are present only in congregation with each other and children, lacking means of action but finding power in numbers as the film progresses. This is characteristic of regression in society, as knitting groups, book clubs, and female gossiping are aspects of society prior to modernization and women’s rights. Charlotte Melville was the female with the most development and initially functions as an empowered women in her ability to throw parties and choose a (sexual) partner. As the film goes on she regresses into being a pawn of the system as Wilder abuses her and as she is subordinate to the Architect.
This film explores the idea of regression of women in society. It is one way Wheatley discerns the difference on the fine line between utopia and dystopia. High-Rise’s ability to display women objects of the class they belong catalogues the decline into dystopia.
** For context: I typed this up and realised the night of I had missed the due date by a few hours and left it to die on my laptop in defeat. It was written fresh I swear.