In an unspecified future, young criminals on death row are sent on a journey of no return. Their mission being the gathering of scientific data on the energy of a black hole. With the data furthering knowledge back on Earth. While the isolation of their journey provides time for each individual to contemplate the crime they committed. However, as they speed through the universe, their bodies become the subject of the biological effects of deep space travel. With their very existence controlled by drugs, forced experimentation and restrictive socialisation. The crew resembling the recycled water on board, as they are in turn recycled by the penal system.
In the opening scenes we meet Monte (Pattinson) and a baby girl (Willow) alone and isolated on a drifting ship. Willow crying for her Daddy, and longing for human contact and reassurance. While Monte try’s to fix the outer hull, offering the baby audio reassurance from a far. From here our journey unfolds via flashbacks, before bringing us forward in time for the final act.
From its simple synopsis, many would expect High Life to cover the same ground as previous Science Fiction films of a similar theme. However, anyone who is familiar with the work of Claire Denis. Will equally know the complexity and deep thought that she instils in her filmmaking. Thus ensuring High Life never enters standard Sci-Fi territory. As it couples the isolation of space with transcendental themes of the human experience. Dispensing with expensive effects and genre cliches. While providing us with a deeply rich and often uncomfortable portrait of humanity, reproduction and continuation.
While Pattinson gives a truly electric, complex and unstated performance from the first scene to the last. Gripping the audience with a character who holds his mystery and never allows the viewer too close to his core. Coupled with equally stunning ensemble performances, particularly from Binoche as the reproduction obsessed Dibs.
High Life strips back the human experience to its base components of sex, desire, protection and belonging. Demonstrating the animalistic nature of humans in situations beyond their control. With this aesthetic further emphasised in the final act, as dogs are seen to have acted in the same way as their human counterparts given a similar experience. This animalistic narrative is coupled with biblical imagery of nature, seen through the lens of the ships garden. However, just like the dark pervading threat of continued existence, this is no garden of eden. Reflecting that the choices present in continuation and re-birth are never simple, and layered in risk and uncomfortable decisions.
Artistically High Life offers pure cinematic beauty. With Yorick Le Saux’s Cinematography using distinctive colour palettes in creating feelings of isolation, identity and vulnerability in each scene. Adding to a sense of safety versus the unknown and control versus freedom. These visuals coupled with the unstated yet deeply atmospheric score of Stuart A Staples, combine to create a truly stunning cinematic experience.
With her first English language film, Denis has taken the science fiction genre to new levels of human exploration. Taking the base desires of humanity into space, with a story of creation and completion that never hides the darkness inherent in both.