“In what amounts to his novel’s thesis, Ballard writes, “By its very efficiency the high-rise took over the task of maintaining the social structure that supported them all. For the first time it removed the need to repress every kind of anti-social behavior, and left them free to explore any deviant or wayward impulses.” See, for example, the building’s grocery store, which provides the residents with everything they need, even as gray mold creeps over the boxes of peaches that stock its shelves. Advanced civilization, Ballard suggests, is its own undoing, since its culture of convenience removes any obligation to struggle with others for survival. It’s not that modernity drives us crazy, just that it frees us to be as crazy as we’ve always been.
Much as he withholds the gory details, Wheatley never quite commits to the extremity of this premise, though he’s forever dancing around it. He sometimes psychologizes his characters in a way Ballard would have found alien, suggesting that something specific to each individual motivates him or her to join in the violence. It’s starkly un-Ballardian to propose that things happen for reasons, and not because reason itself is a fragile prop.”