high life | claire denis | jean-pol fargeau | geoff cox | robert pattinson | juliette bionche | andre benjamin | space | adventure | drama | mystery | sci-fi | sci fi | pregnant | mia goth | agata buzek | united kingdom | germany | france | poland | united states
Film: High Life
Director: Claire Denis
Writer: Claire Denis, Jean-Pol Fargeau and Geoff Cox
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche and André Benjamin
This was a film that I saw a trailer for it and I was somewhat intrigued. When I saw it was from A24, I figured that I would see it. Plus it allowed me to have a 2019 horror film to keep up with my pace. The synopsis of the film is a father and his daughter struggle to survive in deep space where they live in isolation.
We follow Monte (Robert Pattinson) as he is trying to fix something outside of the space craft. There is a baby that he is taking care of named Willow (Scarlett Lindsey) in a make-shift playpen. She starts to cry and he loses a wrench that falls into the nothingness of space. It is during this that we learn that they are the only two left alive on this ship.
The film then fills us in the back-story while shifting back and forth between the past and the present. This ship is full of criminals. We see what caused Monte to be here, which happened when he was a child. Their mission is to go to a black hole to see if they can harvest energy from it which could be limitless on Earth. The problem though, which we learn from a priest is that this is a suicide mission for criminals who think there is a chance to survive.
There is a secondary mission though. Dibs (Juliette Binoche) is trying to impregnate the women on the ship with the sperm from the males on it. Monte refuses to provide his, but Tcherny (André Benjamin), Chandra (Lars Eidinger) and Ettore (Ewan Mitchell) all agree to, because they are given drugs in exchange. Dibs grows attracted to the strength of Monte and believes he is the key to completing the mission that she is tasked with.
We never fully learn how long Monte and Willow are stranded alone, but she does grow up to be Jessie Ross. Things take quite a turn when they encounter another ship much like theirs. They have to make a decision on to continue to survive and what type of life they’re living.
Now this film really has a basic storyline, but there are a lot of deeper issues this film is exploring. To start off, I want to go with the idea of the punishment system. There’s the issue that they are sending all of these criminals, which includes Dibs, on a mission that they don’t expect to succeed. The issue becomes if this is cruel or not. Personally, I think that this would be better than living in a cell for the rest of my life. It’s raised by Tcherny, which I know is also affecting Ettore, the longer they are out there, they become stir crazy and lose it. Especially in America, the punishment system is a hot button issue as we have the highest population of incarcerated individuals and still being the only civilized country to still have the death penalty if my memory serves.
The next issue this film concerns itself with is children and childbirth. It is crazy that Dibs is here, we learn, because she murdered her children. She believes that she can create an almost perfect child through her tests. There is the issue of radiation they have to deal with and the fact that they’re some violent criminals on board this ship. Boyse (Mia Goth) doesn’t want to take part in the experiment. She doesn’t believe she can carry a child to term. There is an aspect that I’ll get to shortly that involves her and even Monte. To go even farther, there is the imaginary of the black hole that I started to think looks like a vagina and the womb. That really makes this one of the biggest aspects to this film along with sexuality in general.
Being that they are criminals, the issue of rape is visited a few times. The first is that Ettore finally loses his mind and tries to rape Boyse. Mink (Claire Tran) tries to stop him along with others. He never does consummate his act, but he is quite violent about it. There’s the flip side to it with what happens between Dibs and Monte. He is known that to be celibate and doesn’t want to provide his fluids. Dibs violates this trust with not only him, but with Boyse as well. This actually devastates Boyse from the events that play out after.
Going from this back to childbirth, there is the aspect of someone like Monte, who is sounds like has been incarcerated his whole life trying to raise his child right. He even goes from the jail cell to the space ship. When you see the two of them interact, it isn’t the most natural, but he is doing a good job. That just shows though that despite your upbringing, if you put forth the effort, you can raise them correctly.
This brings me to the pacing of the film. I think that this is where I am down on it. I think it is a bit too long and even though I normally like slow-burn type films, this one is too slow. I think there is a good portion of it where just nothing happens. We don’t even really get much from the characters in this time either. I like the messages the film is putting forth and the possible implications of the ending, but it really just had trouble keeping me focused on what was happening.
It is a shame though, because I thought the acting was really good. Pattinson is a guy that I personally looked down on from his time in Twilight, but everything since then he has been impressive. I like the subdued way he played the role, because it is like someone who has been in jail for a long time and is trying to keep out of trouble. He isn’t afraid to say what he is thinking and he is doing a good job raising his child. I thought he was really good. Binoche is interesting, because being a doctor we think she is good. It is revealed though she has done some horrible things which set the table for what she does on this mission. Benjamin was solid as was Goth. She really is such a horror icon for the amount of roles in the genre she is taking on. The rest of the cast rounded out the film for what was needed as well.
To the effects of the film, there actually weren’t a lot of them. The majority were seeing stars and things in space. I thought the black hole and things around it were stunning. It is interesting that is looks quite similar to the first picture taken of one as well. The spaceship doesn’t look great though, I will be honest there. It does feel like they are on a spaceship so I have to give credit there. I do think the film was shot very well though.
As for the soundtrack of the film, much like Pattinson’s performance, it is subdued. I think that actually works. The film has a much more eerie feel that there is no sound. It was actually making me anxious at times. When we do get it, it is normally while looking at the black hole, where it is very light, but it does add an ambiance to what we are seeing.
Now with that said, I could see a lot of people not really considering this a horror. I think the horror in this film comes from the issues that are looked at in the film. I would definitely put it on the borderline though. Bringing up the issues, I really did like that part of the film. It really had me thinking at the things I was seeing. On top of that there were some really good performances in the film. The pacing though was a bit off and I found the film to be quite boring at times. There weren’t a lot in the way of effects or a soundtrack, but I think both aspects work for what they did give us. Overall though I would say this is an above average film. It definitely isn’t for everyone as I found it to be a slow-burn that was even a bit of a chore for me to get through.
My Rating: 7 out of 10