Robert Pattinson High Life

Year: 2019
Director(s): Claire Denis
Writer(s): Claire Denis
Region of Origin: US
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
Rating: R
Digital, Color, 110 mins

Synopsis: An astronaut and a baby struggle to survive in deep space where they live in isolation. (Source)

Claire Denis’ High Life is more than mere words can express. Her latest is massive and ambitious despite a minimalist, almost sparse approach. In what can almost be described as anti-genre sci-fi, Denis’ space set trappings explore humanity and emotion detached from how we’re used to seeing it. Eschewing big overt spectacle and glamorized adventure for erotic, psychological tension, Denis’ film is truly like nothing that’s come before. Hers is a microcosm of inexplicable human extremes, rooted in cruelty and self destruction yet also surprisingly full of warmth and hope. In sending her characters light years away from civilization, she hones in on their unyielding, untethered humanity, resulting in a film that’s primal, wondrous and defiantly challenging.

Sometime in the future, Monty (Robert Pattinson) and a newborn baby named Willow are the only surviving members of spaceship hurtling towards a black hole. As it turns out, they were part of a mission made up of death row inmates, each accepting a seeming suicide mission as a way to trade one cage for another. Complicating things further, the crew was subjected to reproductive experiments from one Dr. Dibs (Juliette Binoche), a mad scientist with questionable ethics and closely guarded motivations. As Dibs and crew raced towards a dark inevitability, each were forced to examine who they’d become at the end of the world.

At its core, Denis uses a confounding whole to deconstruct the extremes that make us who we are. The film isn’t glamorous, but it is seductive. It’s sexy, but not always about passion or love. Moments of pure spectacle aren’t drenched in sentimentality. And while the film doesn’t shy away from graphic moments of violence, there is an undeniable tinge of hope. Under the deft control of Denis, these opposing ideas are inextricable. It’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. This haunting examination of humanity reduces existence to mundane moments of repetition, bodily fluids and the lingering spectre of death. It also forces us to make sense of who we are, and what we leave behind despite being a mere speck in the cosmic scheme of things. In forcing us to make sense of unmoored emotions, the film is a bold confrontation of the lives we lead and the inevitability that lies in store for us. 

Robert Pattinson High Life review Scarlett Lindsey

On top of it all, a disparate ensemble brings the story’s abstract ideas and existential dread to life. Almost singlehandedly carrying the film, Robert Pattinson helps to make Monty an anchor of sorts. We view most of the film through Monty’s perspective, and it’s through him that everything funnels through. Pattinson is never less than captivating, operating with nuance and subtlety. There’s minimal dialogue here, and Pattinson really soars through evocative physicality. Juliette Binoche lends the film its hypnotic menace. To her credit, Binoche feels like a threat, but one that always feels human and genuine throughout. Binoche is clearly enjoying the material, allowing its more ludicrous aspects to breathe despite dead serious delivery. Mia Goth, Andre Benjamin and Jessie Ross, to name a few, offer up some pivotal moments, but it’s best to leave the nature of their roles secret for those who haven’t seen the film yet.

Like the expansive space that envelops the crew and spaceship in High Life, Denis’ film is a cosmic tapestry of human frailty and self-destruction, but also strength and awe. The film’s final destination is truly one that we can’t see coming, and a confirmation of beauty amidst the darkness. With her inescapable examination of existence in its purest form, Denis has created a one-of-a-kind experience. This is the type of film that envelopes us within its haze, paralyzing us with hypnotic wonder and unforgettable sights.