High Life Image

High Life

By Andy Howell | April 6, 2018

There is a hell of a lot of masturbation in Claire Denis’ latest film, High Life, and that’s as good a metaphor as any for the film.  High Life is intellectual masturbation — devoid of human engagement, just sad in the gulf between the fantasy and reality.

High Life it is in a way transcendent.  It has broken through to a new kind of awful that was previously inaccessible to humanity.  Never before has a director taken the raw materials of extensive murder, rape, and animal cruelty, a Harry Potter and Twilight heartthrob (Robert Pattinson), an extraordinary musician (Andre Benjamin, aka Andre 3000), one of the world’s finest actresses (Juliette Binoche), added in black holes, and yet made something from it as engrossing a coma and as comprehensible as senility.

The movie begins with Monte (Pattinson) working on the exterior of a spaceship, over the cries from a baby monitor. It seems he and this infant are the only survivors of this mysterious mission.  In time we piece together that a crew of criminals was sent out to extract energy from a black hole, and in flashbacks, we get the story of how, through a series of rapes and murders, we’re left with only these two.  The ship has an unexplained feature — Pattinson has to interface with the computer using a chip in his finger every 24 hours in order to renew life support. In time we learn that the ship used to be run by Dibs (Juliette Binoche), a mad scientist so obsessed with sex and reproduction that she’s willing to resort to rape and non-consensual artificial insemination to create a baby that won’t die from radiation.   

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  1. chris says:

    TBH, I thought this film was too boring for me, but I think this review is much worse than the film. The fact is, there was a LOT to chew on intellectually here, it is not thematically consistent and is not just stuff thrown together. I think this reviewer doesn’t like art films and was assigned to write a review of one.

    This is especially clear because he doesn’t even bother to pay attention. For example, as pointed out by another respondant, the “6” ship was full of dogs — that doesn’t mean they had the same instructions/rules as the next ship sent. It is clear that nobody back on Earth gave a s**t about these dogs or prisoners, and that whatever they think they are supposed to be doing is not at all what the actual mission is. Just as likely as it is about “energy” it is probably just an experiment to find out about black holes, reproduction in space, how astronauts will treat each other on such a voyage, etc. Remember: We sent dogs into space before we sent humans. The 24-hour rule was in fact probably just to keep them from killing the captain or aborting the mission, etc.

    I’ll tell you one powerful theme I saw in this film which resonates for me: Humans are terrifyingly capable of adapting to the most inhumane circumstances, and this is one of the main reasons we are not able to adapt to our current existential environmental crisis: We are built to adapt to shitty situations rather than change our drives and culture to fix the situations themselves. In other words, we simply will adapt to apocalypse rather than change enough to prevent it. In this world already, from prisons to garbage dumps to war zones, their are humans having babies and growing old in situations which many of us with softer backgrounds would rather kill ourselves (in theory) then face.

  2. Laika says:

    I hope ship number 10 has Claire Denis in it.

  3. Fergus M Byrne says:

    I think Shelley is a nod to Mary Shelly who wrote Frankenstein.

  4. Luigi "Il Professore" Parenti says:

    …….one major issue still confuses me at the end???? The main character calls out: “Shelly!?!” and the female character who responds looks a lot like his daughter, Willow, from minutes earlier but only a bit older and now with red lipstick on????? Is it his daughter or perhaps his first girlfriend from High School before he killed his friend who killed his dog and the reason why he was sent to prison???? I can’t figure that one out for the life of me…..and where in space does one get that shade of red French lipstick???? I’m still baffled?????…..and what about the “plastic vagina” dialogue between the mad doctor and female patient???? Kubrik would never have left us with such questions or puzzles.

  5. Luigi "Il Professore" Parenti says:

    Bravo !! Bravissimo ! Brilliant! Evocative! A bit confusing too. In Sci-Fi film almost every theme has already been exploited…so….in that same vane they exploited this to death (beating a dead dog or horse….pun intended) using and relying on theatrical style props and some body fluids rather than super-realistic sets. Although I truly don’t fully understand the ending myself (I can only ponder it in a Kubrick 2001 kind of way) it does make a point or conclusion to the plot. It even opens up the possibility for an equally horrible sequel…let’s not go there! If you notice…..the number “7” and number “9” craft are small and relatively inexpensive boxes set out into space as experiments. They are low-budget and disposable craft…as well as the occupants who chose to die in them rather than die in prison – they all knew it was a one-way trip. They didn’t need trained astronauts…. and even the evil doctor admits to being a felon no less at one point. Although they are mere test subjects like animals in a cage (ie. the Dog ship references) the survivors of the experiment end-up enjoying being the first successful time travelers through a worm hole (note the swirling tunnel didn’t pop-out their eyeballs as the black hole did to the previous test-pilot?) and end up safe and sound in another place, time or dimension – let’s not even consider the Adam-Eve biblical concept here at the end since his cute little (hybrid: “she’s perfect”) daughter would have presented an incestual dilemma or outcome…..oh those French film-makers…almost as bad as the Italians!!! The film was about sending animals, humans and offspring in to worm and black holes just to see what happens. In real life we already know eye-balls do pop-out and make a big mess of the space suits when entering black holes.

  6. The fresh direction in this modern film.Why always be led like sheeple?Why not spark our own imagination from the “Glimpse” or “Display” they provide? We became to idle and lazy and this display was a new path many film makers should explore.This film may be a attempt to show that lifelong criminal’s should be used to better our human condition ,rather than be wasted or dependent upon our lifelong support.I was left with visual puzzle of honest isolation traits,all to come to my own conclusion.This is how life in deep space would play out.It was a glimpse into a cold and chilling reality.If your expecting a common ride off into the sunset ending or a lame attempt to lead by the hand,this is NOT for you.More artistic theme to this work than the average moviegoer would expect but does not mean it is bad,just different.Very cold,chilling,real humanity and what is needed to keep some version of sanity.This was complete display for us to see,to the contemplate our own opinion of what we just saw.Hello people,this is “Us”, and what we are capable of if thrown into the similar situation.Very Honest work here.Miss Binoche is still lovely and the binding veteran anchor to this cast.The Untrained eye will compare her time on “The Box” to Elizabeth Berkley and her debokkle in Stripper film, but this was far from that.To witness the pleasure fluids in hindsight was sexy combined with her lovely locks.She was a mad scientist ,fixated on assuring her goal was completed.Massaging her crop like a crazed farmer.I thought how this film was made for the homegrown film lover and not as much for the mainstream viewer.Unless your willing to think for yourself,you will spin your wheels in this one.I truly liked it.Left me with a puzzle of visual disturbing Element to savor.lol…Watched it twice.

  7. jim says:

    one of the worst movies Ive ever seen

  8. This movie is a piece of crap. This review is spot on. No real direction or plot. It goes nowhere. It is a waste of 2 hours and depressing as well. If that was the point in making the movie then I blame those that funded it. It sucked.

  9. Natalie Martin says:

    Does the baby die????????????? I must know…….

  10. Doug Chance says:

    Wow. Seems like someone was more interested in applying their energy to the level of snark they could generate, rather than actually considering the subject of the review.

    Free clue #1: Just because the human ship required someone to check in every 24 hours to sustain life support (and tbh, we don’t even know if that was really true or just an insinuated means of behavioral control) doesn’t mean that a canine version would have the same “feature”.

    Free clue #2: The appearance of dogs may have something to do with the protagonist’s crime.

  11. Ash says:

    Smells like frustration here 😀

  12. PF says:

    Maybe Mr. Howell missed what the movie is really about, and his taste is better suited to a superhero movie, with special effects, that give you nothing to think about

  13. hb says:

    Mr. Howell can’t find one performance or one tidbit that he found redeeming? Perhaps it says something about his objectivity.

  14. Di French says:

    Thanks. I found the trailer intriguing but with a warming light going off. You explained the warning light. Now I know — don’t bother to see this film; you won’t enjoy it. Shame, really. It has a good cast.

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