The film High-Rise tells a story with a brighter light on the condition of living under the constructs man has created for himself than what is apparent in the reality we see before ourselves. The dystopia Ballard creates in his novel dissolves the frame we, as individuals, see our world through and leaves a grotesque and horrific image before his audience that exemplifies the truths of our society that might normally be left in the dark. Ironically, the spotlight moves towards the aspects of society Ballard focuses on once the lights in the building go out. As the building goes longer and longer without light, Laing, the outsider and protagonist, becomes more isolated and embraces solitude. Both sides of the external conflict between Royal and Wilder become more polarized in their class-war, while Laing remains almost completely neutral. Throughout the film, Laing’s role in the high-rise seems the most enviable; he remains the most civil on the surface, not engaging in the violence or gluttony that runs rampant in the residence of the high-rise. Royal, on the other hand, surrounds himself with the most voracious of gluttons who regularly pillage and murder to maintain momentum in the party they have thrown as an act of war against the lower floors. Royal does not explicitly condone any of these activities or engage in them, but is accountable for what happens in the building as its architect, or at least Wilder views him as responsible. Wilder goes on a mission to achieve some form of justice through the illumination of Royal’s fault in constructing the high-rise, only to become soaked in blood and mad with rage and without success.
Between the scenes where Laing evaluates Wilder’s mental state and then refuses to lobotomize him at the request of Royal’s henchmen, the films condition as a dystopia crystallizes. This scene takes place just after Laing complete his transformation during his isolation with his room and his white paint, but just before Royal is assassinated by broken and frustrated Wilder. Wilder is harder and harder to look at due to his disturbing appearance and mental state, but is called the “sanest person in the building” by Laing after the interview. Laing, who initially only wanted to be left alone, seems to inherit Royal’s role as the building leader and the chaos seems to dissipate. Wilder’s obsession and madness being justified as normal and sane demonstrate how High-Rise is a dystopia. The conflict is resolved when Laing, who represents the individual, finally gets involved and truly becomes a part of the High-Rise rather than a simple resident. Passive citizens allow groups such as the group lead by Royal to become suppressive over others. Royal sought to create a form of utopia, but because the perspective he created it from was similar to Laing’s initial mindset, one where he could maintain distance and some degree of isolation, he instead facilitated the corruption of the residents by giving into their desire which were, at their core, animalistic and uncivil, in order to avoid the ugliness of dissension personified in Wilder. Laing is also accountable because his acceptance of the existing standards reinforces the behaviour of those who set them. The message that Ballard conveys is one that encourages revolt and transgression. He demonstrates how individual detachment is problematic in the context of social constructs through the characters Royal and Laing. On the other side of the spectrum, active members of the social constructs are driven made with frustration, like Wilder, or mad with power, like Pangbourne and Cosgrove.