High Life (2018 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Claire Denis|
|Music by||Stuart A. Staples|
|Cinematography||Yorick Le Saux|
|Edited by||Guy Lecorne|
|Box office||$1.9 million|
High Life is a 2018 science fiction horror film written and directed by Claire Denis and starring Robert Pattinson and Juliette Binoche. The film focuses on a group of criminals who are sent on a mission to travel on a spaceship toward a black hole while taking part in scientific experiments. It is Denis's first English-language film, and was co-written with her long-time collaborator Jean-Pol Fargeau.
The physicist and black-hole expert Aurélien Barrau was hired as a consultant, and the Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson designed the film's spacecraft. High Life had its world premiere on 9 September, 2018 at the Toronto International Film Festival.
A group of criminals serving death sentences 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. Dibs, who is fixated on creating a child through artificial insemination, but has yet to find success. Sexual activity between prisoners is prohibited. The ship is equipped with "The Fuckbox", a device obsessively used by the crew to masturbate. Dibs murdered her own children and husband, and the only celibate prisoner, Monte, rejects Dibs's sexual advances. Monte is serving a life sentence for killing his friend over his dog as a child. Monte's only friend on the ship is Tcherny, who is drawn to the garden because it reminds him of Earth.
The captain, Chandra, develops leukemia due to radiation and has a stroke before being euthanized by Dibs. Pregnant prisoner Elektra also dies, along with her newborn infant. One night, Ettore binds a woman named Boyse and her roommate Mink to their beds and attempts to rape the former. Nansen, the pilot, intervenes, but Ettore overpowers her. Monte arrives and throws Ettore off Boyse, beating him but stopping short of killing him. When Monte leads Boyse away to be treated, Mink stabs Ettore to death in the hallway. Dibs begins doubling the amount of sedatives each prisoner receives, later sneaking into Monte's cell and raping him while he is sedated. She then injects his semen into Boyse, and she produces a healthy child, but Monte is unaware that it is his.
As the ship approaches the black hole, Nansen prepares to take a shuttle into the black hole. Unbeknownst to the other prisoners, Boyse kills Nansen with a shovel and takes her place. The shuttle travels through a molecular cloud that alters its trajectory and causes it to dive into the black hole where Boyse explodes due to spaghettification. Mink later attacks Dibs and injures her but is then killed by Monte. A fatally injured Dibs informs Monte that the child is his before ejecting herself into space. Tcherny commits suicide by burying himself in the garden. Monte, now the only surviving prisoner, disposes of the bodies from each cryochamber into space.
Monte struggles to raise the baby whom he has named Willow. At one stage he attempts to make repairs on the ship, but her hysterical cries through his helmet speakers causes him to drop a tool and lose it in space. When Willow grows to be a teenager, they encounter another ship similar to their own. Monte boards the ship but finds it carrying stray dogs who have survived by eating one another. Willow begs Monte to bring one back, but he refuses, intimating contamination could potentially kill them. The ship grows closer to the black hole, and Willow convinces Monte to board a shuttle with her and journey through it. Shortly after they enter the black hole, Monte takes Willow's hand as they approach a massive yellow light source, the black hole's accretion disk.
- Robert Pattinson as Monte
- Mikołaj Gruss as young Monte
- Juliette Binoche as Dibs
- André Benjamin as Tcherny
- Mia Goth as Boyse
- Agata Buzek as Nansen
- Lars Eidinger as Chandra
- Claire Tran as Mink
- Ewan Mitchell as Ettore
- Gloria Obianyo as Elektra
- Victor Banerjee as Indian Professor
- Jessie Ross as Willow
- Scarlette Lindsey as baby Willow
- Joni Brauer and Johann Bartlitz as newborn Willow
Claire Denis had the idea of the project in her mind for fifteen years. Talking about it she said that, "I had a screenplay which was naturally in English, because the story takes place in space and, I don't know why, but for me, people speak English – or Russian or Chinese – but definitely not French in space."
Initially novelist Nick Laird co-wrote the screenplay for the film along with Denis, Fargeau and Geoff Cox. Additionally, Laird's wife Zadie Smith contributed to early drafts of the English version of the screenplay. Due to creative differences between Denis and Smith, Laird and Smith dropped out of the project as screenwriters, but Laird later served as the consultant for the script.[failed verification]
Denis explained the practical reasons for the non-linear story, saying "I always wanted it to start with a man and a baby, as a ritual of two living persons with no despair in that moment. And then there would be the flashbacks bringing in all the despair." Denis compared Pattinson's character to the knight Percival of Arthurian legend, and Binoche's character to Medea from the Greek tragedy.
During the project's early stages, Denis had Vincent Gallo in mind for the lead role, and wrote the film thinking of Philip Seymour Hoffman. The project later caught the attention of Robert Pattinson; according to Denis:
Pattinson contacted the person who was doing the English casting. I was intrigued but I thought he was too young. Every time I went to London to meet some actors, he was there. His desire to work with me has never faltered. And now he is a little less young and it's perfect. […] It's strange, though, because it would be difficult to imagine anyone more unlike Philip Seymour Hoffman physically, but Robert is very enigmatic, with a powerful presence. He gives off an aura that immediately makes you want to film him.
Pattinson described his character as an astronaut and said, "he's a criminal who volunteers for a mission toward a black hole, but he realizes along the way that a doctor on board also wants to do sexual experimentation with humans in space." In late 2015, Patricia Arquette and Mia Goth joined the cast. In September 2017, Arquette dropped out while the rest of the cast, including Juliette Binoche and rapper André 3000, were also announced.
Principal photography for the film began in Cologne, Germany on 4 September 2017.[failed verification] The Polish part of the shooting took place in Białystok. Filming wrapped up in late October 2017.
Following its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, the film competed in main competition at the San Sebastián International Film Festival in late September 2018. The film had its theatrical release in France on 7 November 2018 and in the United Kingdom on 10 May 2019. A24 acquired U.S. distribution rights to the film and have scheduled the release in the United States for 5 April 2019.
On review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, 83% of critics have given the film a positive review based on 203 reviews, with an average rating of 7.49/10. The website's critics consensus reads, "High Life is as visually arresting as it is challenging, confounding, and ultimately rewarding - which is to say it's everything film fans expect from director Claire Denis." On Metacritic the film has a weighted average score of 77 out of 100 based on reviews from 41 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Audience response has been divided.
David Ehrlich of IndieWire gave the film an A- grade, saying it owed more to Solaris than Star Wars and describing it as "a pensive and profound study of human life on the brink of the apocalypse." Jessica Kiang of Variety called it "extraordinary, difficult, hypnotic, and repulsive". Charles Bramesco of the Guardian gave the film 5 stars out of 5, saying Denis had reconfigured the genre's "familiar components to create a startlingly fresh engagement with the question of what it means to be human." Steve MacFarlane of Slant Magazine wrote: "The film asks down-and-dirty questions about what really resides beneath thousands of years of human progress, a savage and haunting antidote to the high-minded idealism of movies like Christopher Nolan's Interstellar and Ridley Scott's The Martian."
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