High Life

The look you have when you leave a screening of High Life
7/10 - High Life has some hypnotic imagery and interesting themes, but the darkness of the narrative makes it rather unenjoyable.
Release Date: 
Friday, May 10, 2019
Written by: 

High Life follows a group of convicts sent on a damned mission to the outer reaches of the solar system.


Outer space and exploration of the universe continues to be a constant source of inspiration for filmmakers.

Most recently, Hollywood has produced blockbusters like The Martian, Gravity and Interstellar, but if you were expecting popcorn viewing of the same ilk with new release High Life, you couldn't be more wrong.

Co-written and directed by French filmmaker Claire Denis, with the project marking her English-language debut, High Life contains deeply provocative and strongly adult material, which is simultaneously hypnotic and disturbing.

With a non-linear timeline, the narrative kicks off by following a group of criminals serving death sentences who are sent into deep space as part of a mission to find a way to extract energy from a black hole.

Each prisoner is treated as a sexual experiment by Dr. Dibs (Juliette Binoche), a scientist who is obsessed with creating a child via artificial insemination.

Monte (Robert Pattinson) refuses to act as a guinea pig, remaining the only celibate prisoner, with the others killing time by partaking in tedious ship maintenance duties and masturbating in a device known as "The Box".

Yes, Denis is not afraid to show the abject - bodily fluids, blood, and corpses - and as the plot moves on, she not only explores how the prisoners are faced with the psychological effects of their isolated environment, but the way in which they are free to act on base impulses, with scenes depicting shocking instances of brutal violence, murder and both male and female rape.

This may all be too much for some viewers.


Even though the concept of time is diminished, the director makes subtle changes to the characters' appearances to indicate ageing, and as newborn babies and adults inevitably pass away, Monte somehow manages to remain strong and steps up to a fatherly role when his crewmate Boyse produces a healthy child.

The only light relief in the film comes from Monte's interactions with little Willow (adorable baby Scarlett Lindsey), and while the situation is utterly bleak, their relationship is what forces the viewer to consider what really makes a human being actually human in a cosmic expanse.

With her often bizarre and unsettling behaviour, a long-haired Binoche turns in a dedicated performance that is truly light-years away from her nuanced personas in audience favourites like Chocolat or The English Patient.

Music star Andre Benjamin (better known as Andre 3000) and actress Mia Goth also offer up convincing characterisations as space-isolated criminals, yet, it is Pattinson who is out to make the biggest departure of his career, and masters a sense of stoicism in the face of the constant darkness.

He does his best with the challenging material; however, it would have been nice to know a little more of his backstory in order to connect more with his journey.

High Life certainly isn't for everyone, and with such complex content, be selective about who you go to the cinema with. You've been warned!

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