High Life was number 9 in the Guardian’s top 50 films of 2019 and the director, Claire Denis, won a top prize at the San Sebastian International Film Festival. It is a staggering and primal film about love and intimacy, suffused with anguished memories of a lost Earth and a haunting, thrilling achievement from this visionary director. Monte (Robert Pattinson) and his baby daughter are the last survivors of a damned and dangerous mission to the outer reaches of the solar system.The crew, of death-row inmates led by a doctor (Juliette Binoche) with sinister motives, has vanished. As the mystery of what happened onboard the ship is unraveled, father and daughter must rely on each other to survive as they hurtle toward the oblivion of a black hole.
Robert Pattinson gives one of his most striking performances as Monte, the death-row criminal in outer space, tricked into making a voyage described at one stage as a “class-one suicide ride”. The former Twilight star makes his shaven-headed, gaunt-faced character seem hyper naturally sensitive and feral at the same time. As in many of Denis’ films, the rumbling music (from her regular collaborator Stuart A Staples of Tindersticks) sets the dreamy and sinister tone. A sense of extreme dislocation is felt throughout High Life. Denis is slow to share details about who her characters are and why they are hurtling through the galaxy, well out of human contact.
High Life offers an arthouse twist on the typical Hollywood space adventure. Denis shows human nature at its worst but also celebrates the resilience and selflessness of its astronauts. It’s hard to work out what precisely the allegory is here and what bigger points the director is making about philosophy, religion or the environment. This, though, only adds to the sense of mystery that makes the film so tantalising.
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Venue: William Loveless Hall