High Life Movie Review
Robert Pattinson takes to the stars in the alluring sci-fi drama High Life, a meditative exploration that drifts between dream and nightmare. Pattinson plays an ex-con who has gone on a deep space mission to collect energy from a black hole, because that can’t possibly go wrong.
Director and co-writer Claire Denis delivers an intriguing if low-key story that upends the traditional sci-fi narrative, placing a very human—if fucked up—story at the forefront. Whereas movies such as Interstellar go big, presenting spectacle, a booming soundtrack, and a story tied deeply to the sci-fi constructs at their core, much of High Life’s story could be stripped of its deep space setting and still be just as unsettling. With a budget of $9 million, Denis bucks the need for groundbreaking special effects, often foregoing them altogether—space could just as easily be a pitch black elevator shaft, the spacesuits something crafted for a high school play—a firm statement that this movie is about the motivations of man.
And women, of course.
High Life operates like a dream, sort of, the characters and their actions seemingly and purposefully just slightly removed from the situation at hand. Often, to say characters are held at arm’s length is an indictment on a film, but here its intentionally works, as if we, the audience, are observing an experiment bound not by time nor space.
With dreams come nightmares, however, and that’s where High Life shines. In one scene, a woman (Juliette Binoche) sedates Pattinson’s character and then rapes him, eliciting ejaculation. She then runs down the hall, holding his semen in her hands, to apply his seed to an unwilling and unwitting female to initiate pregnancy. In another, she rides a machine to orgasm, the camera dancing over her as if she were a demon in throws of a hellish bath.
High Life isn’t for everyone—its low-budget aesthetics and off kilter storytelling techniques won’t appeal to everyone, and certainly its exploration of the darker side of humanity goes in directions that will be offputting to some viewer—but is a well-crafted and thoroughly immersive picture.
In the end, High Life isn’t the incredible experience some critics have made it out to be, but that doesn’t diminish its strengths.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.