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high life

DIRECTOR: claire denis (beau travail, 35 shots of rum)
STARRING: robert pattinson, juilette binoche, mia goth, and Lars Eidinger


REVIEWERs: toby woollaston and luke williams

Monte and his baby daughter are the last survivors of a damned and dangerous mission to the outer reaches of the solar system. They must now rely on each other to survive as they hurtle toward the oblivion of a black hole.

Review by Toby Woollaston


Movies from the enigmatic French director, Claire Denis (Beau Travail), are often described as elliptical in nature—a cinematic version of those three provocative dots at the end of a sentence prompting an "and?" response, where more is denoted by what isn't said. High Life is one of those films—a smouldering question mark that casts a giant shadow over the film’s other concerns.


Set in an undefined future, Monte (played by a detached but oddly warm Robert Pattinson) is one of eight prisoners in a ship hurtling through space towards a black hole, all of whom have elected to give their lives to science rather than undergo an earth-bound sentence.  The ship's resident scientist, a prisoner herself, is a femme-fatale styled matriarch (played by Juliet Binoche) whose motherly gaze cautiously watches over the crew with one eye and keeps tabs on her reproductive experiments with the other.


The film takes pleasure in showing us a cocktail of bodily fluids pumping through the film’s industrial retro-chic production design. Aesthetically, High Life owes much to films that have gone before; the plastic-wrapped grime of Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys, the damp biological machinations of Scott’s original Alien (along with Mother’s built-in DOS prompt), the syrupy darkness of Glazer’s Under the Skin and finally the the organic hope of Boyle’s Sunshine.  It’s all there, none of it is original, but the sum of its parts make for a potent and evocative sensory feast.


Although the dark and foreboding palette may not be to everyone's taste, it's the perfect companion to Denis’ angry take on humanity's self-destructive nature. Make no mistake, High Life is cold, bitter, perverse and very violent in parts—unsurprising, I suppose, for a film about a bunch of violent criminals cooped up in a shoe-box.


However, my biggest reservation rests with High Life's seemingly impenetrable wall of final ambiguities. It leaves you floating in a seething broth of questions, tasking you to fill in the gaps—a rewarding process for some, but I suspect many will balk at the film’s final vagaries. Simply put, Denis’ deliberately obtuse and elliptical style keeps you at arm’s length for too long and offers an ending that feels about as complete as this senten...



Review by Luke Williams

It’s hard to see the point of this film. It attempts to be a thriller, but is not thrilling. It tries to be erotic, but is more sexually violent and exploitative. The plot is odd in its pointlessness as there really is no reason for these people to be doing what they are doing or going where they are going.


Monte and his daughter are the only survivors on a space ship heading into the depths of the universe. It was disappointing to get that major spoiler at the beginning of the film. Would have been a lot more tension created if we had seen events unfold as they did. As such, it’s hard to feel for any of the characters knowing they aren’t going to survive long. The crew are all convicts except for the scientist who seems particularly sex crazed and most of the experiments are sexually oriented with sole purpose of causing a pregnancy. On a one way space journey.


As much as I was excited for some weird oddity and an interesting take on the Sci-Fi genre, I would suggest that you avoid this film. If you do watch it, make sure no kids are in the room.

I would have given it a lower score but Juliette Binoche can almost do no wrong. Except maybe agree to do this movie.


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