High Life (2018)

High Life
Director: Claire Denis
Writer: Claire Denis, Jean-Pol Fargeau, Geoff Cox, Andrew Litvack, Nick Laird
Cast: Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, André 3000, Mia Goth, Agata Buzek, Lars Eidinger, Claire Tran, Ewan Mitchell, Gloria Obianyo, Scarlett Lindsey, Jessie Ross, Victor Banerjee
Seen on: 23.10.2022

Content Note: rape, forced pregnancy

Plot:
Monte (Robert Pattinson) is alone on a spaceship with his daughter Willow (Scarlett Lindsey, later: Jessie Ross) who was born on board. As they hurtle through space, Monte has to make consistent reports, although it is unclear whether anybody will ever get to hear them – they are that far from any other humans. But there is a destination and a reason why it is Monte who is on this journey.

High Life is the kind of film that fans of Kubrick will love. I am not one of those people and I struggled with it.

The film poster showing an adult hand in a space suit grabbing a toddler's hand.

High Life is excellently made, don’t get me wrong. Unfolding at a slow pace and through many flashbacks, it gives us an idea of how Monte ended up where he is and how come he is alone with Willow. The story is full of violence and all about taking choices away from people. A harsh topic that the film explores in an allegorical way, and yet very directly. It is definitely a film that can be discussed at length.

It is also beautifully filmed and excellently acted, proving Denis is a filmmaker at the top of her game who knows what she is doing. It’s evocative of older sci-fi films, but also very modern. So, really, that the film didn’t work for me is not a sign of low quality. It is more a matter of taste. And it’s just not to my taste.

Boyse (Mia Goth) putting on a space suit.

I really mean it when I say that if you like Kubrick and/or Tarkovsky, this is a film you should absolutely watch. But if you, like me, don’t really connect with the films of these filmmakers, then you’ll probably struggle with it like I did. I just never got into the rhythm of the film, and even though I find its theme of consent and choice extremely engaging and important, it never presented it in an angle that hooked me.

And so I watched the film pretty much as dispassionately as the camera watches Monte and Willow, occasionally scratching my head at plot developments (but the plot is not to be taken too literal anyway), but otherwise unengaged. Without the emotional side of it, the film remains kind of cerebral and distant – and that is just not my thing.

Monte (Robert Pattinson) with Willow (Scarlett Lindsey) in the garden.

Summarizing: not for me, but it’s definitely not bad at all.

2 comments

  1. Objection, your honor! I love the films of Stanley Kubrick, but this one, I couldn’t stand. It felt to me like a movie made by someone who has no respect (and knowledge) of the genre. There were also a couple of glaring errors (like when Patterson dictates his log, you could see the words appearing before he spoke them), stupid actions by the protagonists (like not securing the wrench in zero gravity), and the discrepancy between the attempted rape of the woman (which was shown as absolutely harrowing – as it should be) and the actual rape of Pattinson’s character, which was shown as almost erotic/romantic, was as conspicuous as it was problematic. If this were shot by a man and the gender roles in those two scenes reversed, they would have chased him out of Cannes with wet rags – and rightly so. Add to that some scientific inaccuracies (the flickering stars, no time dilation around the black hole, gravity on board because of velocity), and you got a movie that is pretty much the exact opposite of what I’m looking for in a Science Fiction-film.

    • Objection duly noted! :)

      The discrepancy between the two rape scenes was definitely glaring. In an attempt to give the film the benefit of the doubt, I’m trying to piece together a reading where it tried to show how very different rape can look. And there is certainly a comment here on the commodification of imprisoned bodies and people. But in the end, it doesn’t really come together in a way that negates the eroticism of the scene. In this case, Monte being the “erotic participant” in his own rape instead of the victim (and not a female character), plays into harmful notions of masculinity.

      The scientific inaccuracies and other things didn’t bother me as much as you, but in this case we obviously agree in the film not working for us.

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