In terms of movies on the subject of space, isolation, and desperation, High Life is geared towards how people get when they have too much time to think on their hands. Director Claire Denis takes her audience on a visually haunting and psychologically strange thrill-ride in a movie where people are stuck in space. Robert Pattinson and Juliet Binoche are the leads, however, it is hard to tell in the movie who the enemy is, because they all have such dark personalities. Denis’ goal for the High Life is to turn the subject of isolation into hostility. The tension grows as the film gets deeper into the serious subject matter, and for some people, it will be hard to watch.
The plot of the movie is set on a character named Monte (Pattinson), a man who is raising his daughter in a space craft shared with all other kinds of people. The lady who is in charge is Dr. Dibs (Binoche), who deals with the people on board the space craft. She tries to determine who can make babies and such, and who someone can have a child with. For Monte and his daughter, their goal is to reach the black hole, which is a location where space and time do not exist. That is because they are on board with criminals who are on a mission in space to be the focus of a human reproductive system. Therefore, expect a generous amount of unwanted sex scenes, and moments that are very strange and that do not make that much sense.
For me, High life was a slight disappointment. Yes, the cinematography and locations are visually moving and enthralling, but the film’s focus is just a variety of people wanting kids in space. Now, that is not so bad, but a variety of the trailers and the plot descriptions said the film is about a man and his daughter stuck in isolation in space. Yes, that plot was defined well in High Life, however, the film ended up feeling like Children of Men (2006), meets 2001: A Space Odyssey. The major difference though is in Children of Men, the issue that causes the world to be in chaos is that the world has failed to reproduce. In High Life, the women can reproduce, but the question is if they want children with the men they share the space craft with. High Life jumps around with men and women forcefully wanting to try to make children, consistent violent assaults, and deaths that result from the assaults. When the deaths happen, they are not taken seriously. The characters just act like someone dying is not particularly important and just go back to living their isolated life in space.
In terms of a movie taking place in space, I felt the film simply too negative. Denis directs a space thriller that shows what boredom and isolation can do for people in a corrupt environment. With no laws, no rules, and no boundaries, High Life starts to go overboard with the violent content. Some of the conflict scenarios made sense, but after three of them it was redundant. I was expecting more of a movie where a father and his child are going to find a place to seek change. Not a film where the other negative characters are thrown into the mix. Yes, some may have served a purpose and belonged in the movie. However, focusing on outside characters over the main characters became repetitive.
High Life is amazing primarily for its cinematography. The lighting, the compositions, and the graphics make the world of space look breathtaking and visually stunning. The cinematography was done by Yorick Le Saux and Tomasz Naumiuk. Both have cinematography credits for films, but I believe Le Saux is the champion cinematographer for High Life. Le Saux has done the cinematography for many films that are similar (but a little bit better) than High Life that are creepy and inviting technologically. He did so with Clouds of Sils Maria (2014), I am Love (2009), Personal Shopper (2016), and other titles. Even though, I was not fond of my experience with High Life, the technical and visually amazing space imagery kept me slightly enthralled.
In the end, I am not bashing High Life, I just felt I was let down by what the movie was over how it was advertised. For fans of the director, it may be worth a viewing, but it is the least memorable of the films she has directed. The performances are mediocre, it is disturbing (for no good reason) throughout the movie, and it was not focused. High Life hopped around too many times and had too many moments that were not simply unnecessary. That is why I am only giving it credit for the cinematography. My rating for High Life is just two stars.