Written and directed by Claire Denis
Starring Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche and André Benjamin
Running Time: 1 hour and 50 minutes
MPAA rating: R for disturbing sexual and violent content including sexual assault, graphic nudity, and for language
by Benjamin Leonard, Best Boy
I went into this film knowing only that it was about Monte, who is a father played by Robert Pattinson, and his daughter surviving alone in deep space and that it was directed by Claire Denis. Ok. Now look at the MPAA rating reasoning up above. Perhaps add to it that, in addition to the humans, there are animals in some dire conditions that don’t turn out so great either. These graphic depictions aren’t done without reason and aren’t gratuitous, but they exist and it’s worth warning people if they aren’t up for that sort of thing. These are probably the only things you really need to know going into this.
I had more or less written Pattinson off without ever seeing much of what he had made. It was just one of those deals where he wasn’t ever in anything that seemed interesting enough to get me to watch it. But then I saw Good Time, and MAN was that a good movie with a stellar performance by Pattinson. Seeing that he was in this definitely added to my interest in wanting to check it out.
I’m going to be sparse with the details because it really is best if you allow the film to lay out the story at its own pace. Basically, this is a drama told in a sci-fi setting. A more accurate term, though I mostly hear it when referring to literature, is speculative fiction. It’s told in a somewhat non-linear fashion and there are several flashbacks and skips ahead in time that aren’t obvious, but become apparent as the scenes go on. I don’t think that it is distracting, but helps add a bit to the disorientation of the situations the characters are going through.
If you’d read slightly more about High Life than me, you probably know that it takes place on a prison ship and that they are being experimented on for the effects of reproduction in deep space. You may also know that Juliette Binoche plays Dr. Dibbs, the one conducting the experiments. As mentioned earlier, there are some graphic depictions of rape. This, along with the experiments, is presented as part of larger look at sex and power in society and the way the individuals deal with it within themselves and those around them. There are a number of other topics that are addressed such as discrimination (of all sorts), poverty and the prison system, but these are all off-shoots on the theme of power.
Years pass and, even though he was already striving to be a better version of himself before, having a daughter seemed to give Monte a focus on making sure that things would be the best they could for the both of them. And this is not an easy environment to make things good.
Top to bottom, the performances are great. There’s a pretty diverse set of characters here going through a range of situations and nothing really rings hollow. In addition to that, the cinematography is on-point. Sometimes it can be a bit dingy, but this is a prison ship that has been in space for years. However, there is a lush garden that they tend in order to have supplies and it is verdant and beautiful to behold. This leads me to my only complaint. Other than their sleeping quarters, which were quite cramped, the ship seemed a little too spacious for something you’re sticking prisoners in. Beyond that, the set design itself was great. It was very utilitarian with a few callbacks to 2001.
I’ve heard some other people say that this is a really good movie...that I’ll probably never watch again, and I think that rings (mostly) true. It’s just too uncomfortable to be something you’d want to settle in for time and time again. I do think that it’d be worth watching a second (or maybe third) time just to make sure I took in all the characters and bounces in time. But no matter what, this is well worth seeing one time if you can sit through the uncomfortable depictions.