Outer space has been used as a setting to tell stories in all forms of media. Sometimes it adds little to a tale beyond a nifty backdrop for explosions and special effects, whereas other works use it to compliment their premise. High Life, the latest film from director Claire Denis, firmly falls into that second category, and uses the vastness of space by to confine its cast. 


Things begin benignly enough, with a man quietly performing maintenance on a spaceship. An infant soon starts crying, who we infer is the man’s baby. We’re gradually given a look at their relationship — the guy lovingly cares for the baby, his daughter — but he’s discernibly distraught about his situation. We then flashback into the past, seeing the man — Monte, played by Robert Pattinson — and the people he went into space with. 

The crew was composed of criminals who were en route to a black hole intending to harvest energy from it. Their prior histories aren’t touched upon (we don’t know what crimes they’re guilty of, for example) and are unimportant. Denis, instead, explores their interpersonal relationships and psyche. Their vessel becomes the troupe’s new prison, and everyone’s aware of the foreboding finality to their mission. Dr. Dibs (Juliette Binoche) upsets their morale further, abusing and manipulating them through her experiments. Everyone copes differently, leading to infighting which often escalates to violence. Monte, the most relatable, resolved character, serves as a counterpoint to his peers, and Pattinson’s solemn, thoughtful performance carries that well. 

High Life’s imagery is frequently grotesque; any bodily fluid you can think of appears in some capacity, and the cinematography and set design further the feelings of loneliness and desperation. The cold, sterile rooms and dorm-like corridors accentuate the film’s mood (one of the two detailed making-of special features delves into this), and the characters’ sexual exploits, particularly Dibs’, are framed and filmed in an uncomfortable manner. Save for the ethereal garden Monte periodically visits and the beautiful, arguably hopeful final scene, High Life is not an optimistic movie. It’s not a Star Wars or Guardians of the Galaxy, nor does it want to be — it’s a brave, macabre study of an isolated group of people trapped in a claustrophobic environment. 


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