High Life (2018) by Claire Denis
Review by Zach Dennis
I mentioned struggling to come up with thoughts to describe If Beale Street Could Talk earlier in this recap and I have to say I feel the same with High Life, but in a somewhat different regard. Easily the most opaque viewing of the festival, I’m not sure what I can come up with the give some semblance of analysis with this film.
High Life follows Monte (Robert Pattinson), the sole surviving member of a space expedition who is now living on the ship with his infant daughter. In this futuristic period, criminals are sent into space on suicide missions because, fuck’em ya know? Monte is part of a group that also includes Tcherny (André Benjamin), Boyse (Mia Goth), Chandra (Lars Eidinger), Mink (Claire Tran) and scientist Dr. Dibs (Juliette Binoche).
While on the mission, Dibs is using the time to test fertility during space travel, which leads to a scene that most people who saw the film at TIFF are referring to, and I’ll leave ambiguous here. (Google “Juliette Binoche Fuckbox”).
Writer/director Claire Denis shifts between the voyage in progress and the aftermath with Monte and his daughter, who later grows up to teenage age. Denis has spoken about her appreciation for Kristen Stewart and Pattinson in the Twilight movies, and you can see why she found him perfect for the role of Monte through High Life as that cold, calculated lifelessness that he embodies in those movies carries over here, but to greater effect. Pattinson is reserved and observant, removing any sense of a personality or ambition, which reflects the morale of most of the members on the mission. This aloofness, coupled with the ambition of Dibs to use this suicide to further some sort of progress outside of just dying for one scientific discovery, is where High Life finds its drama and what makes the scenes between Monte and his daughter the more impactful. The erosion of the blank canvas that Monte is for most of the movie into someone trying to impart wisdom and skill onto a blank canvas in a different sense is insipiring, and this works because of the work by Pattinson.
I can’t speak at all about the overarching work by Denis, but I found this trip into the science fiction genre to be worthwhile, which is a difficult task for a genre that seems beholden to so many monolithic works of cinema that sometimes you want to ask what more is there to say. Interrogating and exploring humanity through being flung into the vast unknown of the cosmos is nothing new or unique, but Denis’ interest in the complexities of these personalities and the full embodiment of these characters by these actors makes High Life something fresh and probing.
I desperately want to watch this one again before the end of the year, and luckily A24 picked it up so I should be able to. But, it’ll be one that will surely be an interesting discussion on the podcast once everyone catches it.