Claire Denis’ first film in the English language is an erotically charged, domestic drama set in the far reaches of space. If such a description seems paradoxical it is because High Lifeis anything but ordinary. Ostensibly, the film is about Monte (Robert Pattinson) and his young daughter, Willow, who are the sole occupants of a vessel travelling towards an unknown destination. Pattinson, who continues his meteoric rise through challenging independent cinema, is captivating in his nuanced display of paternal intimacies. The camera quietly observes the bond between father and daughter in its examination of the family through a setting of complete isolation, millions of miles from the familial. High Life is a contemplation on life where no other life exists.
However, through flashback we discover the fate of the rest of the crew and the purpose of this space odyssey. The assembled astronauts were in fact part of an experiment of death row inmates sent beyond the solar system to harvest the gravitational energy of a black hole. Denis herself has described the piece as a prison film; the caveat is simply that the crew are imprisoned in interstellar travel. Keeping them under regulation is the seductive Dr. Dibs (Juliette Binoche) who wishes to harvest something else in order for the crew to procreate and maintain their journey beyond their own lifespans. The spacecraft itself is bathed in gorgeous reds and blues which starkly contrast the bleak memories of Earth that intersperse the first half of the narrative. The claustrophobia of the ship is palpable with the unrelenting darkness of space, always enclosing. As the crew hurtle towards their inevitable annihilation, the sexual and violent tension ramps up to breaking point, with Mia Goth as the excellent Boyse at its centre.
The film attempts to conceive the inconceivable through its (fittingly topical) depiction of a mind warping black hole, questioning what happens when time and space cease to exist. There are large ideas at play here that leave you feeling truly existential long after the credits roll. Monte and Willow’s voyage may be damned but it’s sure worth coming along for the ride.
Image Credit: A24