“In every dream home, a heartache”, purred Bryan Ferry in his Roxy Music days.
Director Ben Wheatley and writer Amy Jump’s adaptation of JG Ballard’s 70s dystopian novel is a furious pop-culture saturated romp through a retro-futuristic world, where newcomer Dr.Robert Laing (name possibly no coincidence, as his methods of teaching and living are highly unorthodox) arrives to take up residency with the cream of the elite in a state-of-the-art high-rise block of flats.
Putting the ”ERRRRRGGGGGGHHHH!” into ergonomics, Hiddleston’s clear-eyed inscrutable beauty as Laing, and that of his co-star Sienna Miller as Charlotte, have never been put to better use. These people are gorgeous,rich, but morally questionable.Here, wealth and genetic fortuitousness provides no escape, as a class war unfolds between the upper echelons of society and the ‘plebs’ at the bottom. A metaphor for social climbing-surely not?! Subtle this isn’t, but then subtlety just wouldn’t work. Hiddleston remains witness to the horrors throughout, yet an almost passive consumer, simultaneously repulsed and seduced.
All overseen by creepy architect at the top of the penthouse block, Tony Royle, malevolently portrayed by Jeremy Irons, there are certain nods to Stanley Kubrick’s cinematic design (even Irons in his white clothing resembles an ageing Clockwork Orange Droog) where details like dead-eyed cashiers; bent cigarettes, dead dogs, rotten fruit and hallway orgies are impassively, slowly rendered, and a man’s suicide plummet from open window to car bonnet feels like a showroom dummy meeting his factory maker.Vistas feel like woozy prog rock album covers, like Roger Dean on downers working for IKEA.
The seedy 70s style provides part of the sense of dislocation, however many (parallel) lines run through to Etonian Cameron’s cabinet today. It’s all power cuts, cheesecloth, a Thatcher speech on the ‘joys’ of capitalism, sideburns, rapacious savagery in double-denim and Studio 54 levels of debauchery. Meanwhile, Clint Mansell’s pulsing soundtrack sweeps majestically alongside the beautifully judged indie pop choices, such as Can, The Fall and Portishead’s suitably chilling cover of ABBA’s SOS, which is partnered by an eerie baroque lounge version, foreshadowing the terrible comedown from the party, where rules are cast aside and it’s every toff or oik for themselves.
Richard Wilder (Luke Evans) is an impressive, moustachioed villain styled like a misogynist rock star, his heavily pregnant wife Helen (Elisabeth Moss) the vulnerable likable flip-side, but it’s the endless crisp interiors and exteriors that feel like extra silent characters here- buildings’ lit windows blinking in the night, like innocent children staring back as their parents’ lives fall apart.There are many children here, too- and, inevitably, they are the sensible ones.
Pristine living can become filthy: class war has rarely looked so ravishing-or so rotten, and some stains can never be painted over.
At Glasgow Film Theatre until March 31st.