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  • Writer's pictureMax Markowitz

High Life

Captivating brilliant and mind-blowing

Claire Denis’s High Life is an arthouse film made for only one kind of audience: Audiences who have patience, stamina and sincere curiosity towards exotically weird and intellectual films. Fortunately for me and for Claire, I am one of those people and I have every intention of applauding her for creating the Sci Fi genres greatest film since Arrival.

High Life follows a group of death row inmates who are sent on an alternative energy finding mission in space to extract energy from a black hole. Each prisoner is treated as a guinea pig by Dr. Dibbs (Juliette Binoche) who is passionately fixated on creating human life through artificial insemination. Despite her continuing inability to find success, she insists she can make it work.

I have no hesitation in comparing High Life to The Handmaid’s Tale in that way. The crime of sexual abuse is legalized for certain purposes and those responsible are blinded by the injustice due to their corrupt ignorance.

To be a dark actor, you have to contribute to dark films and Juliette Binoche has never held back any dark film that came her way. Regardless of the genre, she excels in everything. Her performances in Clouds Of Sils Maria and The Wait was all I needed to familiarize myself with her brilliance.

What makes her performance in High Life so terrifying is that she is not someone who does injustice through lack of morals. She truly believes that what she’s doing is beneficial and important. Her certainty will not fail in creeping you out. Binoche embodied Dr. Dibbs and set her free by portraying her with such complexity. Even though she’s not an inmate, she is a prisoner in her own way. She has no power over science and this inevitability suffocates her.

Robert Pattinson portrays Monte, the only celibate prisoner on board the ship. Through Claire Denis’s exposure of character development, I could gather that these inmates are not monsters. They’re individuals who committed crimes the harsh winter known as life placed at their feet. Given Monte’s resistance towards sexual pleasure, Dr. Dibbs has a certain fascination with him. She happens to be a very beautiful woman and she can use her body to lure others towards her goals.

Monte however is too smart for this. Generally speaking, he’s a very smart young man and Pattinson portrays him with an intelligence that’s not overt and it really speaks to who his character is as a person and to the storyline as a whole. He doesn't like confrontation but when necessary, he’ll come through. He’s not a depressant but he is someone who is so far away from everything else. He is living in a state of xenization but he’s so accepting of it. He really is someone who is just existing and I think Pattinson really captured what it’s like to do that (that moment when you’ve given up but you’re not hopeless). It’s a very confusing and conflicting way of living but Pattinson approaches it so effortlessly.

Despite Monte’s sincere human nature, it is Mia Goth’s performance as Boyse that makes me label her as the most sympathetic character. She seems to be the only character that can verbally acknowledge that what’s taking place is not right. Life has already hardened her and her current circumstances only harden her further. Despite her lack of power in the situation, I would definitely describe Boyse as a fighter. She only sees one way out and that’s to finish the mission so she can get her freedom. She never says this but it’s clear to me this is how she feels and these feelings are her coping mechanisms. Goth portrays Boyse with such animosity and it’s so real because she has it too. How could you not be angry, reading a script like High Life where injustice surrounds your every move?

Claire Denis who wrote and directed High Life deserves roses thrown at her feet. The subject matters she explores in High Life such as the laws of nature, life origin and sexual abuse are explored in a manner that will leave you shaking.

Stuart A. Staple composed the most exhilarating score that is all about melody. He created something completely original and radiantly mesmerizing. Yorick Le Saux’s cinematography will leave you wondering where you were at all times as there’s so much lighting, you forget that the film is set in space. The true brilliance of the cinematography is that none of the characters are fascinated by it. What we see is their prison. They don’t have the luxury of sitting in a chair and watching someone else suffer while they don’t.

At the end of the day, High Life is a film about retention. Earth can be so unbelievably cruel and what makes High Life so interesting is that the characters leave earth and nothing changes. They are still prisoners and they cannot escape cruelty. Cruelty comes with them. High Life is disturbing, mysterious and weird but also captivating, brilliant and mind blowing. I greatly enjoyed it but again, it’s not for everyone.

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