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With: Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, André Benjamin, Mia Goth, Lars Eidinger, Agata Buzek, Ewan Mitchell, Jessie Ross, Scarlett Lindsey, Claire Tran, Gloria Obianyo
Written by: Claire Denis, Jean-Pol Fargeau, Geoff Cox, Nick Laird
Directed by: Claire Denis
MPAA Rating: R for disturbing sexual and violent content including sexual assault, graphic nudity, and for language
Running Time: 110
Date: 04/12/2019

High Life (2019)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Dead Space

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Claire Denis's English-language debut, the severe science fiction story High Life seems to land somewhere around her other attempts at genre films, Trouble Every Day and Bastards; it's good, quite good, and it has all her signature touches, but it's missing something that her more personal dramas have. It has an unclean feel that makes you want to shower after. Even so, the more I think about it, the more I like it.

It's set on a stale, drifting spaceship deep in the void. As someone else mentioned, this is the anti-Interstellar (which I'm all for), and comes closer to things like Andrei Tarkovksy's Solaris and John Carpenter's Dark Star. In it, several violent convicts have been selected for an experiment. They are sent to explore the energy emitting from a distant black hole to see if it can be harnessed. Meanwhile, a doctor (Juliette Binoche) runs tests with sperm and eggs to see if a baby can be made in a lab.

As the movie begins, only one space traveler (Rob Pattinson) is left, alone with a small baby that he seems to be raising alone. A flashback introduces us to the others (André Benjamin, Mia Goth, etc.). I won't say what happens, but it's a combination of violence and intellectual discourse. Denis's films are remarkable for their use of space, and the characters' relationships to their environment. I find I generally like them more when they deal with open, exterior spaces, but the genius of High Life is that the ship comes with a little garden, which serves as a kind of connection to the earth. The juxtaposition of the metal hallways and this little paradise is striking.

Last year Binoche starred in Denis's superb Let the Sunshine In, and gave a remarkable lead performance that deserved more notice during award season. And Pattinson of late has made a series of incredible choices in very tough, challenging films, effectively shedding his Twilight skin for good. But this movie isn't the kind in which great performances thrive. The characters are hard to enjoy, given that they are trapped and have long ago retreated inside whatever protective emotional devices they have created to survive.

Then there's the title, which indicates that they are "high" above the earth, and that they are alive, but it's also a play on the term, which suggests a good time in opulent surroundings, i.e. "living the high life." High Life is anything but a good time, but at least it's not easy to forget, and you won't see anything else quite like it.

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