‘High Life’: A look at the darker side of humanity

‘High Life’ — video still

I’ve been a fan of sci-fi and fantasy movies since I was a young boy. Star Wars, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter: I’ve been a massive fan of them all. So when it comes to movies in this genre, I feel like I’m a little bit harder on them, because these types of movies hold a special place in my heart.

High Life, directed by Claire Denis, stars two of my favorite actors working right now, Robert Pattinson and Juliette Binoche. The film tells the story of Monte (Pattinson) and his daughter, the remaining survivors aboard a ship on a mission to the far reaches of space. Monte is part of a group of death-row criminals who are sentenced to this mission, led by a doctor (Binoche) who operates using extremely twisted and sinister methods.

‘High Life’ — video still

This movie was not my cup of tea. Although I’m usually all for the extremely artful and indie films, there was something about the dark and bleak tone that played throughout this film that didn’t sit well with me. It may have been Denis’ goal to achieve this tone, but it just didn’t feel like something I’d want to watch again. Now it sounds like I’m completely dismissing this movie, but there are great things here that I found I did like.

Monte, played by Pattinson, was an interesting and soft-spoken character. The interactions he has with the people on the ship are extremely short and simple conversations, but he carries a very strong confidence throughout the film. Even though things don’t really go his way, his character exudes strength and persistence.

‘High Life’ — video still

Binoche was almost the complete opposite. Through experiments on the inmates, you learn how dark her character really is and what she will do to get the things she wants. She has two scenes in this movie that made my jaw drop; I couldn’t believe how they achieved not only showing these scenes but finding a tasteful way to convey them.

The other aspect of this movie that really captured my attention was the visuals. The film reminded me of the Alien franchise in that it felt very claustrophobic and was dark and dirty. It really suited the story for this movie and helped convey the feeling of what it would be like to be in space on a doomed mission. The cinematographer was Yorick Le Saux, who just wrapped up shooting the new rendition of Little Women.

The weakest parts, unfortunately, were the script and direction. In my opinion the writers (Claire Denis, Jean-Pol Fargeau, Geoff Cox) leaned too much into the sexual and dark side of this story. They were trying to get across how sinister people can be, but it didn’t lend itself well to good entertainment. This is absolutely more of an art piece, and I think it works well as that.

I tried my hardest to like High Life, but it was littered with too much darkness for me to enjoy it to the fullest. I do think that this movie is for a very specific audience, and if it appeals to you then you might really connect with it. I don’t think there’s much of a middle ground. Fans of art-house cinema may find this film right up their alley.

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