High Life (2018) Movie Review
Claire Denis and Jean-Pol Fargeau
Do you like space?
Do you like sex?
Do you like space sex?
What if you could mishmash it all into one movie, but never really show any of it except in vague hints and enigmatic images? If that does it for you then you’ll love the sci-fi drama High Life, starring everyone’s favorite Batman that no one has seen play Batman, Robert Pattinson.
Even if you hate sex and space, you might want to watch High Life because it’s a very good movie. So there’s that.
I remember hearing about this movie when it played at all the major film festivals last fall (the Toronto Film Festival, the Boronto Film Festival, the Goronto Film Festival). I heard mostly positive things and wanted to watch it when it became available in my area and somebody let me out of the trunk.
When it got wide release in April of this year, star Robert Pattinson also happened to be cast as the new Batman, much to the internet’s ire.
I’ve always said that Pattinson is a very good actor and has proven to be a versatile performer over the years. If you took out those stupid Twilight movies out of his filmography, his casting as the caped crusader wouldn’t have drawn so much fake internet rage.
It can’t be any worse than Batman V Superman or Justice League.
The only reason I bring this up is if the only thing from keeping you from watching High Life is its star, then you’re missing out on one of last year’s better movies.
Then again if you’re triggered that much, then you probably think Hobbs and Shaw has a really complicated plot and there’s something really screwy about how Midsommar is spelled. Probably those darn foreigners made it spelled like that. Just un-‘Merican.
To some, once a sparkly vampire, always a sparkly vampire.
High Life opens in the vast openness of space. We’re not sure what year it is, but we assume it’s in the future. Then we’re not sure it’s in the future because the computers look like they were taken from a student lab in 1985.
We meet our hero Monte (Robert Pattinson, everyone’s favorite Canadian not named Ryan Reynolds) walking around space station 7.
I don’t actually know it’s called space station 7. You get random shots of it during the movie and it looks a like a storage container with a giant 7 stenciled on it. It doesn’t have a cool movie spaceship name like the Nostromo or Millennium Falcon.
Monte (Robert Pattinson, everyone’s favorite Canadian not named Ryan Gosling) also has cute little baby in tow.
It looks like it’s just Monte and the baby (named Willow) that inhabit 7. Monte spends his days taking care of her and telling her that he should have drowned her like a kitten when she was born. He has such innate parenting skills you don’t learn from a book or online course.
Once in a while he reports to a terminal that he and Willow are healthy. The computer then gives space station 7 another 24 hours of life support.
Where are all the rest of the people? Surely the guy from that horrible movie Remember Me and a little baby can’t run an entire space station by themselves.
You’re right, astute viewer. The movie will now flash back to happier times.
Maybe not happier, but more populated times.
Let’s meet the important cast members before they’re all gone.
I forgot to mention that every one of space station 7’s crew are convicted criminals who volunteered to be guinea pigs on 7 instead of spending their lives in prison. They’ll get poked and prodded in a giant bucket of rust, but at least they won’t be behind bars.
- Doctor Dibs (Juliette Binoche)- Yes, she’s an actual doctor and she spends her time on 7 taking sperm samples from the male inmates and injecting those samples into the female inmates. She’s convicted of…doing something doctors really shouldn’t do. Did I mention she *really* likes sperm samples?
- Tcherny (Andre Benjamin, or Andre 3000 if you remember early aughties pop culture)- He likes working in 7’s garden. I don’t know what crime he committed but it’s reasonable he chose to spend his sentence in space so he wouldn’t get killed by the cops because he’s black. You can’t get pulled over in space.
- Boyse (Mia Goth)- Whenever Mia Goth appears in a movie, I just assume the movie will be 20 minutes longer than it needs to be because whatever she’s in (last year’s Suspiria remake, A Cure for Wellness) generally is. I’m not sure what her crime was but Tcherny was probably framed for it. Because he’s black.
There are other criminal randos but since their names are not above the title, we’ll just assume they’re unimportant or will be dead soon.
We learn from people down on Earth that the prisoners of 7 were sent on a multi-year mission to harness the energy of a black hole. We also learn something about the mission that we really didn’t want to know.
You’ve got a bunch of horny prisoners hurtling through space. What could go wrong?
Turns out, a lot.
But since this movie is directed by art house stalwart Claire Denis (Beau Travail, White Material), don’t expect much action. Or really, any action.
But it beats having sperm samples forced out of you in space…
Or does it?
What Works With High Life
- Oscar Winner Juliette Binoche’s um, very committed performance as the inscrutable Doctor Dibs. There’s solid acting all around, but the characters are somewhat muted by nature. Not Doctor Dibs. As I mentioned before, she really likes her sperm samples.
- High Life’s comparisons to 2001 are reasonably well-earned, from its deliberate pace to an actual simulation to what life might be like in space. Not just the day-to-day, but how it must feel to be in the same area, doing the same thing year after year.
What Doesn't Work With High Life
- To some, deliberately paced might feel like “boring” as High Life is largely plotless. There are a handful of times when the movie drags, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the journey. If that type of thing is an automatic hard pass, then I’m sure you’re looking forward to that new Gerard Butler movie something something Fallen, since you don’t have to do any thinking at all.
In space, nobody can hear you spill your seed. You don’t have to be high to enjoy High Life, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.