Cast: Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, Andre Benjamin, Mia Goth
Director: Claire Denis
To call High Life an experimental movie is the understatement of the century. I don’t watch too many art house movies, so my lack of experience in this genre may lead to a somewhat exaggerated reaction towards this film. I’m still not 100% sure how to feel about this movie as it is very much a style-over-substance type movie, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The story is wild, but the themes are interesting and the color palates help establish High Life as another success in Denis’ storied career as a director.
The film follows Monte (Pattinson), one member of a group of prisoners who instead of spending their lives in prison or being sentenced to death decide to go on a mission to outer space to see if life can be born and grow outside of Earth. While Dr. Dibs (Binoche) conducts various experiments to see how these prisoners can help her hypothesis, the balance between freedom and imprisonment as well as the ideas of human sexuality are explored and put on full display for the audience. This movie is a lot to unpack as it clearly has a lot to say, but I’m not 100% sure I understood exactly what exactly that point is. There are certain elements of this movie that stand out and probably mean something greater than what I saw it as, but this is the type of film where everything means something greater than it’s shown to be. For example, many of the scenes have lighting that has some sort of blue, red, or yellow tint to it, and I’m not sure if there was some deeper symbolism to this or if that’s just the color they used in those scenes. Maybe after exploring the film in greater detail in a second or third rewatch I’ll finally figure it out, but for the time being, this is a bizarre film that went way over my head. Considering that this is Denis’ first English-language film and I’ve never seen any of her other movies, I can only assume they are just as experimental and groundbreaking. Outside of the story and symbolism, Pattinson does a phenomenal job in the lead role. His character has a lot to unload, so the fact that he can balance all of the facets of this movie and still give a solid performance is impressive. When your movie can be retitled Prisoners Masturbating in Space and it would still maintain the integrity of the plot you know that the audience is in for a wild ride and Pattinson’s performance shows he knows exactly how anyone would act when placed in this type of situation. This movie has some pretty graphic moments and definitely isn’t for the squeamish, and sometimes I felt as though some of the more artistic moments where there just to be excessive and not to prove a point. The fact that this film can easily go from a sci-fi film to an art house film to a borderline horror movie without skipping a beat is a testament to the level of talent behind the camera and shows it doesn’t matter what language Denis’ films are in, they’ll almost always be good.
Overall, High Life is a wild ride from start to finish and is a good introduction into Denis’ style of work. Like some of the other boundary-pushing films I’ve seen, I think I will appreciate this movie more after I watch it a couple more times, but in a first time viewing it does exactly what this type of movie should do. This can be a tough movie to watch at times, but do to how it looks and the ideas it portrays, the struggle is worth it.
Overall Score: 8/10