Home » High Life review – An Intoxicatingly Beautiful Space Odyssey

High Life review – An Intoxicatingly Beautiful Space Odyssey

by Ben Rolph

Claire Denis’s odyssey High Life is an intoxicatingly beautiful and sensual experience of intimacy. Set in the far future, we are presented with a non-linear narrative that unfolds the horrors and beauties of life in space. Taking place in a pressurised spacecraft, Denis tackles the the question of what it means to be human. Relations can be made to Interstellar and 2001: A Space Odyssey in the thematic ideas explored, yet it feels and is different as it explores a Garden of Eden-type situation with Adam and Eve specimens.

It’s the intimacy and care for the creation of children and how important love is, that forms a bond between screen and spectator. The touching opening of a baby crying, the cuteness and love seen between father and daughter gives a sense of hope in the vast emptiness of space. Pattinson is as fantastic, unpredictable and subtle as ever. It’s the isolation seen in the image of him floating in the darkness of space and the sombre narration over his tendering care for his daughter that shows the inherent isolation and intimacy of High Life.

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A group of death-row inmates are forced upon a self-sustaining spacecraft. They are forced to head towards black holes, to farm their rotational energy for the citizens of Earth. Along their space odyssey, the realisation of their inevitable demise becomes clear. The male ex-inmates are harvested for sperm, as on-board doctor, Dibs (Juliette Binoche), starts conducting experiments to produce life on craft. Monte (Robert Pattinson) is a monk-like passenger, whose past troubles force him aboard. Although their confinement is troubling, there is a sense of hope – notably after the birth of Monte’s daughter, Willow (Scarlett Lindsey) and the constant motif of the Garden of Eden.

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This is an outlandish film that explores Earth’s expansion and like most space exploration films, it tackles the idea of the human condition and the morality of the passengers on-board. Seen through the intimate eyes of the characters, we begin almost like a fly on the wall, watching a purely innocent relationship blossom between father and child. Denis even places the camera in spots that give off a CCTV-like angle. There is a continued motif of looking through screens, as characters reminisce of their time on Earth. It’s as if Denis wants us to feel as if we are apart of all this, but we are left hopelessly spectating, most notably seen through the lack of sound when violence hits. A numbness to the senses shows the lack of importance in the vast expansive void of space.

Dibs (Juliette Binoche) is the on-board doctor, Denis crafts a haunting witch-like scene that evokes horror within, as we spectate the use of the ‘fuck box’ – a room which allows a moment of orgasmic escape for all who use it. Additionally, there is a natural loss of hope as they travel further into the empty void of darkness, and the one sign of hope is seen in the eventual birth of Willow.

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Claire Denis’s High Life is a sensually intimate journey that overwhelms. An intoxicatingly wonderful space odyssey into the psyche of the human condition. A mix of Tarkovsky and Kubrick, especially the enigmatically beautiful end that reminds of 2001: A Space Odyssey. High Life is pure cinema.

5/5 Stars ★★★★★

Ben Rolph




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