Claire Denis’s films take on the recurring them of human conflict in different scenarios. In her first and in my opinion best film CHOCOLAT, Denis looked at what happens to black and whites in a confined space in Africa. In BEAU TRAVAIL, the foreign legionaries were examined for their actions and behaviours and in her latest, HIGH LIFE, the audience takes a look at astronauts (some of whom are hardened criminals) confined in a spaceship as they interact with each other.
The results of her latest film is a mix between genres, Denis’ style which makes for one of the most intriguing films of the year. And Denis delivers in HIGH LIFE – a mix of horror sci-fi and human drama where anything can happen and does. The film can be described as a mix between Stanley Kubrick and Andrei Tarkovsky and perhaps a little Ridley Scott.
The film is set in the near future. A spaceship proceeds on a mission to find a new energy source. Its destination: the black hole within closest reach of Earth. The ship’s crew is a collection of dangerous prisoners with nothing left to lose. The first scene has Monte (Robert Pattinson), the only crew member awake, rigorously tending to the computer and life-support system to keep everyone alive as they hurtle through deep space. Monte is also caring for a baby daughter who was born on board — an anomaly that is just the first sign of the chaos to come. As Monte’s self-discipline slips, the crew awakens and conflicts erupt.
The crew are as unpredictable as their travels through space. The horrors are the unknown – both in space and of the crew’s personalities. The curiosity of the travel through the black hole works. The molecular cloud that kills one crew member is particularly horrifying to watch. As for the action of the prisoners, the film includes two rape scenes and a very violent beating.
The film boasts two stars, Robert Pattinson and Juliette Binoche who both play nasty characters. Binoche plays a doctor who rapes one of the astronauts under sedation while he gets a hard on. Another character also commits rape and is beaten to a pulp. This is also one of Denis’ most violent films.
The atmosphere and production sets of the spaceship are stunning and one admires Denis for the marvellous futuristic look in her first futuristic film.
Make sure to stay for the end credits. The song “Willow” (also the name fo the baby girl in the film) is a haunting and beautiful piece that deserved to be listened to in its entirety.
Denis moves her film in a non time linear manner so the story flashes forward and back quite often. The film might be a bit confusing at first till one sits down and pieces the puzzle together. With that, it must be stated that HIGH LIFE should be seen a second time in order to appreciate the film’s worth. And the film is well worth it.