I saw High Life – newest project of veteran French film director Claire Denis – with zero context. There was no trailer at the time, and I somehow skipped over the brief blurb in the New York Film Festival press packet. And boy, was this QUITE a movie to walk into blind (which I recommend for everyone interested in this film). All I knew, really, was “space Robert Pattinson.”
That is definitely what I got. But wow, was there a lot more to it than that.
Pattinson has always been a thoughtful, dedicated performer, but this landscape allows him to explore new heights. Fans of Juliette Binoche are also in for a treat, as her character is equal parts fascinating, sexy, horrifying, and captivating. Fans of “space movies,” on the other hand…well, you won’t be quite expecting this.
High Life is weird, uncomfortable, disturbing, confusing, and a little gross, but I kind of love it. I love the haunting music and the non-futuristic-feeling design of the spacecraft and space suits. I love the contrast between the eerily lit hallways of the craft, and the vibrant green of the onboard greenhouse. I love watching Pattinson act alongside a year-old baby; watching Binoche utterly command the room in each of her scenes.
If a film director’s dream is to smash expectations, pique curiosity, and surprise their viewers, then Claire Denis is living the dream. In a world where people still assume that women only want soft stories about love, Denis tells a cold, strange story about sex and bodies. In a film landscape where women characters are constantly being talked over, raped, and manipulated, Denis presents the story of a wild, brilliant woman (Binoche) in charge of a spacecraft, in charge of her own sexuality, and who even cooly, criminally toys with the lives and bodies of those around her.
If this has confused you at all: good! This movie will make you grip your armrest, and your brain will be abuzz with questions. Questions like, What is the 21st century hero’s journey, anyway?
I have no idea. And maybe Claire Denis doesn’t either. But her rollercoaster is worth standing in line for. Buckle in.