High Life (2019)

Majestically scored in classic Kubrickian fashion with wondrous tone, sentimental father-daughter themes, a fine Pattinson performance, and life-metaphysical musing, High Life is slow, sibylline, sexy sci-fi allegory by Claire Denis. 7.1/10.

Plot Synopsis: Monte and his baby daughter are the last survivors of a damned and dangerous mission to the outer reaches of the solar system. They must now rely on each other to survive as they hurtle toward the oblivion of a black hole.

*Possible spoilers ahead*

Review

Un (Provoquant) Nouveau Film De Claire Denis

“She was mine, and I was hers.” Claire Denis’ new intellectually-complex sci-fi saga complete with a stunning cast from Robert Pattinson to André Benjamin to Juliette Binoche to Mia Goth was promised to be a challenging film from the start. The film is certainly not for the average movie-goer, and that’s the way true cinephiles like it in what’s otherwise a rewarding genre piece once you get around the gruff and can appreciate what it’s trying to say both about humanity and beyond. Majestically scored in classic Kubrick-ian fashion with wondrous tone, sentimental father-daughter thematics, a fine (though brittler) Pattinson performance, and life-metaphysical musing on mature contempations, High Life is (although at times overdone and a bit slow), a sexy, sibylline, scintillating sci-fi allegory for the 21st century.

A New Arthouse King Is Here: Robert Pattinson

The score. The first thing noticeable from High Life’s opening scene is the soundtrack. Juxtapositions of everything from raunchy sex-appealing, pulse-rattling 808’s to wondrous royalty in synthy cascades straight out the annals of your favorite Kubrick sci-fi flick (especially reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey and for that nostalgic trip I sincerely thank the composer), the scoring is simply sublime and one of the best I’ve heard in a while in modern sci-fi. It effectively treads the fine and difficult-to-traverse line between creepy/unsettling and smooth/comforting in a way composer Stuart Staples should be *immensely* proud of (and perhaps deserves serious award recognition).

A Cinematographical Wonder Of Pure Science-Fiction

Cinematographical stylism. Paralleling all these ear-pleasing soundscapes laid before us is an equally well-constructed visual array. The compositional craftsmanship and crisp attention to detail in setting up shots cinematographically by Le Saux is phenomenal – from ultra fluorescent, green life-bursting Garden of Eden-like shots to in-quarters living constructions on spacecraft to the sheer vastness and black emptiness of space. The filming of these framings is also impressive using a wide library of techniques straight out of film textbooks like overheads, POV’s, and plenty of tracking shots to efficiently and effectively deliver the visual experience in stylistically-smart manner.

A Honey-Sweet Father-Daughter Arc & Life-Metaphysical Musing As Saccharine As Its Score

Inventive dystonic plotting on mature themes. Amidst all the sensory display and imaginative sci-fi wonder is a honey-sweet, sentimental reflection on fatherhood and parental thematics that anchors all the esoterica in something human and tangible. Constant weighs on new parents’ minds like self-worth deliberation, doubt, coming-of-age themes, self-discovery, and sacrifice for the good of your progeny (even if it means they at times hate you) are all juggled on screen impressively through its smart screenplay. Also worked in are metaphysical ruminations on the meaning of biological life, sex, criminality, ethics, and even the viability of our prison/governmental system or societal norms including sometimes-incomplete quickness-to-judgment and what’s to be done of people society has in-effect thrown away or deemed “unusable” like those on death row or life sentences given new purpose here. Even the physics is academically-sound utilizing principles like spaghettification when Boyse goes near the black hole and its gravitational field wreaks havoc on the sanctity of her form – something any scientist can appreciate for the team doing their homework. The scripting is chock-full of difficult, weighty themes and principles wholly deserving of debate and contemplation for a quite intelligent film that has a lot to say about the human condition and life itself.

Flaws – Sex Overload & Disinterest From Pattinson In Parts

Flaws in High Life include at times overplaying the sex appeal angle and a somewhat meek/disinterested performance by Pattinson’s standards. The doctor’s whole persona and movements/motives throughout the film are vapid and waste a fine performance by the impeccable Juliette Binoche. At times, the film borders on plain uncomfortable to watch and even tasteless in things like her just swaying in the fan for hours lewdly (um ..cool?) to climbing on top of people when they’re sleeping (..What on earth? Inexcusable and not sure what Denis was thinking there – maybe making a comment on humans’ bestial/primal animalistic nature but still incredibly ill-handled) to masturbation scenes on the ‘f*ck box’ (subtle) looking at times more like a tasteless adult movie than art. Pattinson – while his performance is still good by most ~any other actor’s standards and the rest of the performances are suitable enough to carry the movie along – just feels a little off/somnambulistic and not fully invested here compared to his otherwise strong indie performances like Good Time (personal favorite), Cosmopolis, and The Lost City of Z. Perhaps it was baked into the characterization to feel lacksaidaisical or detached for blame, but not noticeably so and thus not really an excuse besides perhaps having a bad showing for one film. The pacing also borders on uneventful at times, while being perhaps 10-15 minutes overlong for its comparatively thinner (though symbolic) plot.

Conclusion

A Sci-Fi Saga Set In (But About Pretty Much Everything But) Space

Overall, Claire Denis’ new sci-fi saga set-in (but about pretty much everything but) space is an effectively-creepy voyage with human-centric ideologies for a classically-Denis provocative, difficult film. Majestically scored in classic Kubrickian fashion with wondrous tone, sentimental father-daughter themes, a fine (though brittler) Pattinson performance, and life-metaphysical contemplation, High Life is (although at times overdone and a bit slow), a sexy, sibylline, scintillating sci-fi allegory for the 21st century & mature audiences only. While certainly not for most moviegoers and anyone not in the mood to be challenged intellectually, HL fits the bill for most cinephiles looking for something more high-brow than most other space offerings this year.

Official CLC Score: 7.1/10