High Life, 2018, 1 star

Space odious

Denis’s High is low point in her career

Image courtesy IMDB; copyright A24 / Alcatraz Films / BFI Film Fund

Exclusive to MeierMovies.com, October 14, 2019

Upon my recent announcement that Ad Astra was my top film of 2019 so far, I encountered a small but vocal group of cinephiles who insisted that High Life, a similarly existential space movie, was actually better. So I just had to see what all the fuss was about. Turns out, it’s all fuss and no finesse.

The first English-language production by acclaimed French director Claire Denis, High Life is a non-linear, nonsensical, unpleasantly violent, ridiculously pretentious and just plain gross look at long-term space travel. Pigs in Space might have been a better title, as the characters – led by a guy named Monte (Robert Pattinson) – are mostly badly behaved convicts thrust into deep space to research black holes (and never to return).

It’s an interesting premise, but the structural flaws and unlikable screenplay put to waste the attractive production design. And speaking of waste, the story’s obsession with bodily fluids would make even General Jack Ripper ralph. Frankly, among visually appealing films by talented directors, this might be the worst science-fiction movie of all time. (I liked the idea of prisoners in space better when I saw it used to twisty effect in Into the Dark, a 2014 short film by Danish actor-director Lukas Hassel.)

Among the plot elements that either make no sense or get lost in the batshit-crazy editing is the expedition itself. Why is this futuristic society interested in sending an untrained and undisciplined crew across the galaxy to harness the energy of a black hole? They are already traveling at close to the speed of light in an enormous ship, which means Earthlings have probably mastered cold fusion. Therefore, no more energy problems. But, hey, canceling the mission would rob you of your chance to witness astronauts fighting, getting raped, being inseminated, flashing back to a dog’s death (don’t ask), and experiencing a bunch of other difficult-to-follow vignettes.

If you prefer High Life to Ad Astra, you probably prefer Cool World to Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and Jonathan Teplitzky’s Churchill to Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour. In short, your aesthetic compass might need to be remagnetized.

The most ostentatious element of High Life is the “fuckbox,” an R-rated version of Woody Allen’s orgasmatron that seems to exist mostly to relieve our boredom, but also to allow Juliette Binoche to get naked and pleasure herself. I suppose that in space, no one can hear you cream.

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