July 5, 2019
Street Date 7/9/19;
Box Office $1.23 million;
$19.98 DVD, $24.98 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R’ for disturbing sexual and violent content including sexual assault, graphic nudity, and for language.
Stars Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, André Benjamin, Mia Goth.
With a title more evocative of a stoner comedy than a ponderous science-fiction film, the unconventional High Life explores the existential crisis of a spaceship crew on a seemingly hopeless voyage.
Robert Pattinson gives a restrained yet effecting performance as Monte, a man raising a baby alone on a ship in deep space. The rest of the crew has already died during the long voyage.
Through flashbacks, we learn of the ship’s mission. With Earth in the midst of an energy crisis, it recruits a crew of prisoners to journey to a distant black hole in an experiment to harness its power. But with the ship traveling at near the speed of light, hundreds of years will pass on Earth during the mission, meaning the crew will never see their families again.
To ensure obedience, the ship’s computer is programmed to shut down life support every day unless it receives a report detailing a set of required tasks and maintenance has been completed.
The ship’s doctor, Dibs (Juliette Binoche) is obsessed with using artificial insemination to impregnate one of the female crewmembers, but background radiation prevents the fetuses from developing.
With the crew forbidden from engaging in sexual contact with other crewmembers, their primary means of combating ennui is a sex room with an elaborate machine to satiate their desires.
Monte, however, refuses to partake in any sexual activities, a decision that likely explains how he ends up the last crewmember alive.
Over time, we learn how the crew’s numbers dwindle as a result of their desperation and criminal natures, and how Monte ends up with a daughter to give him a modicum of purpose to carry on a seemingly pointless daily routine.
Director Claire Denis has crafted a film that is visually striking but viscerally unnerving, thanks to a constant sense of dread and discomfort as it explores the baser nature of humanity. The film is practically an ode to bodily fluids of all kinds.
The visual effects seem to stem from a practicality that helps serve the premise. The ship is stark and utilitarian, essentially a giant box in space, a starkly efficient design for what is essentially a prison barge.
In the void of space, High Life finds not the profundity of 2001: A Space Odyssey or the optimism of Interstellar, but a sense of resignation to the inevitable. And in doing so, it redirects its basic questions about the nature of existence back upon the audience.
The Blu-ray includes two decent featurettes that run about a half-hour in total.
The 19-minute “Audacious, Passionate, and Dangerous: Making High Life” is a general behind-the-scenes piece about the production, featuring interviews with the cast and filmmakers discussing the project and their interpretations of it.
The 11-minute “Visualizing the Abyss: The Look of High Life” deals more with the design of the spaceship and the sets, and depicting the science of flying at lightspeed toward a black hole.