TIFF Review: High Life

Score: C-

Director: Claire Denis

Cast: Robert Pattinson, André Benjamin, Mia Goth, Juliette Binoche

Running Time: 110 Minutes

Rated: NR

“It’s gonna kill me.”

Claire Denis, in her first English language film, takes an enriching plot and squanders the execution, sending High Life back into orbit and giving viewers a painful flight through space that they never wanted.

Enlisting the talents of Robert Pattinson and Juliette Binoche, High Life was meant to be grand.  Telling the story of a man and young child, isolated on a spacecraft far outside the galaxy, the film screams potential.  However, the presentation never comes together as the high stakes operation that focuses in on a group of criminals heading towards a black hole, falls flat.

Unlike the confined sets, the minimal dialogue lends itself to Denis’ style.  A director who is known for veering far outside the bounds of a square box, Denis has a knack for stirring up a conversation, always utilizing her characters to embark on a freeing experience that hardly ever fits the mainstream mold.  High Life bears all that weight, and more.  Sadly, unlike the workings of Kubrick and Andrei Tarkovsky (both of whose style is present here), this film doesn't win out in the end.

Opening on a distraught Monte (Pattinson), High Time initially appears to present a single man, alone on a spacecraft, working aimlessly to keep both himself and a baby alive.  Fast forward and we realize that Monte is not alone, but instead accompanied by an inanimate crew whose lifeless bodies that are piled high in a storage room.  Shit hits the fan when he dumps them, sending them spinning into the blackness of outer space.

It is here that the flashbacks begin to surface, filling in the holes that allow us to better understand how we got to the point of isolation.  We learn that the group resides in a futuristic detention center where they are free to move about as they wish.  The only catch is that they must follow a single rule: the men must donate their sperm and the woman their eggs and bodies, allowing for a series of procreation tests, the results of which are beamed back to mother Earth.

The plot is relatively harsh, but nothing can prepare you for Denis’ presentation as she showcases precisely how the study operates.  From the masturbation into cups to a shot of one female character covered in breast milk she cannot feed her child who has been taken away, Denis hones in on the unexpected, capitalizing on shock value and disengaging many of her viewers with her provocative images and lack of sensory.

In her past work, Denis has been praised for her cinematography and vivid shot selection.  In High Life, there is something missing.  I partially blame the confined set pieces and the lack of character interaction, both of which prevent the arthouse director from utilizing the things that have garnered her so much respect within the industry.  However, a large part comes from the story and its incompatible elements.

Stuck within the disappointing film rests two positive: Pattison’s committed performance and a haunting score by composer Stuart A. Staples.  Outside of this, High Life is a film that Denis fans will need to watch if only to appreciate her earlier work.  This one, unfortunately, is a complete misfire.


About Stephen Davis

Stephen Davis
I owe this hobby/career to the one and only Stephanie Peterman who, while interning at Fox, told me that I had too many opinions and irrelevant information to keep it all bottled up inside. I survived my first rated R film, Alive, at the ripe age of 8, it took me months to grasp the fact that Julia Roberts actually died at the end of Steel Magnolias, and I might be the only person alive who actually enjoyed Sorority Row…for its comedic value of course. While my friends can drink you under the table, I can outwatch you when it comes iconic, yet horrid 80s films like Adventures in Babysitting and Troop Beverly Hills. I have no shame when it comes to what I like, and if you have a problem with that, then we’ll settle it on the racquetball court. I see too many movies to actually win any film trivia contest, so don’t waste your first pick on me. My friends rent movies from my bookcase shelves, and one day I do plan to start charging. I long to live in LA, where my movie obsession will actually help me fit in, but for now I am content with my home in Austin. I prefer indies to blockbusters, Longhorns to Sooners and Halloween to Friday the 13th. I miss the classics, as well as John Ritter, and I hope to one day sit down and interview the amazing Kate Winslet.

Leave a Reply