High life is the first English-language film from French auteur filmmaker Claire Denis, as well as her first science fiction film. The film follows Montie (Robert Pattinson), a man who is forced to raise his daughter, Willow (Scarlett Lindsey), in isolation aboard a spacecraft drifting endlessly through space after a series of horrific events left them the only survivors.
Through flashbacks, we learn that Montie was part of a crew consisting of death row inmates who were offered a chance to redeem themselves by going on a suicide mission to harvest power from a black hole. These doomed individuals were under the control of Dr Dibs (Juliette Binoche), the ship’s medical officer who had an obsession with achieving human reproduction in space that led her to commit some truly egregious acts involving rape and non-consensual artificial insemination!
Ultimately, the audience is forced to watch in horror as this vessel filled with violent criminals trapped in confined spaces inevitably descends into chaos.
High Life is a pessimistic meditation on the human condition that is destined to have its themes discussed and debated by film fans for decades. It is a morbid film with moments of cruelty and violation that will make you want to look away, but also striking imagery that will render you unable to avert your gaze. The sight of the crew’s lifeless bodies drifting through space in the opening moments of the film is haunting and a black hole, which Willow says looks like a crocodile’s eye, seen during the film’s final moments is undeniably beautiful.
Provocative and challenging, Claire Denis has given us a science fiction film like no other.
High Life screens as part of the Alliance Francaise Film Festival at PalaceNova Eastend and Prospect.
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Reviewed by Jordan Ellis.