High Life – Review

Claire Denis takes us on an interstellar journey exploring creation and completion and the dark corners of the human experience.

In an unspecified future, young criminals on death row are sent on a journey of no return. Their mission to gather scientific data on the energy of a black hole in order to further the knowledge of wider humankind. During the journey, they have time to contemplate their crimes as they speed through the universe, subject to the biological effects of deep space travel. Their very existence controlled by drugs, forced experimentation and restrictive socialisation. Just like the recycled water on board, the crew are recycled humans, saved from death on Earth for a new higher purpose, unaware that it leads to the same finality.

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, longing for human contact and reassurance. While Pattinson’s Monte try’s to fix the outer hull, offering her audio reassurance from a far. From here our journey unfolds via flashbacks, before bringing us forward in time for the final act.

High Life strips back the human experience to its base components of sex, desire, protection and belonging.

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. This is a cast exploring the far reaches of humanity, sexuality and identity without ever grandstanding in their performances.

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 (Beau Travail), will know the complexity and deep thought that she instils in her filmmaking. High Life is not a standard Sci-Fi story, coupling the isolation of space with transcendental themes of the human experience. Dispensing with expensive effects and genre cliches, this is a rich, deep and often uncomfortable portrait of humanity, reproduction and continuation.

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. This is further emphasised in scenes during the final act, where dogs are seen to have acted in the same way as their human counterparts given a similar experience. This animalistic drive is coupled with almost 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.

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