High Life (2018 film)

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High Life
High Life film poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byClaire Denis
Written by
Produced by
  • Andrew Lauren
  • D.J. Gugenheim
  • Claudia Steffen
  • Christoph Friedel
  • Laurence Clerc
  • Olivier Théry-Lapiney
  • Oliver Dungey
  • Klaudia Smieja
CinematographyYorick Le Saux
Edited byGuy Lecorne
Music byStuart A. Staples
Distributed by
Release dates
  • 9 September 2018 (2018-09-09) (TIFF)
  • 7 November 2018 (2018-11-07) (France)
Running time
110 minutes[1]
  • France
  • Germany
  • Poland
  • United Kingdom
  • United States[2]
Budget€8 million[3]
Box office$2.8 million[4]

High Life is a 2018 science fiction horror film directed by Claire Denis, in her English-language debut, and written by Denis and her long-time collaborator Jean-Pol Fargeau. Starring Robert Pattinson and Juliette Binoche, it focuses on a group of criminals sent on a space mission toward a black hole while taking part in scientific experiments.

Physicist and black hole expert Aurélien Barrau was hired as a consultant, and Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson designed the film's spacecraft.[3] High Life premiered on 9 September 2018 at the Toronto International Film Festival.[5][6]


A group of criminals serving death sentences are sent on a mission in space to extract alternative energy from a black hole. Each prisoner is treated as a guinea pig by Dr. Dibs (Binoche) for her experiments. She is fixated on trying to create a child in space through artificial insemination, but has yet to succeed. Sexual activity between prisoners is prohibited. The ship is equipped with "The Box," a device in a small room that is obsessively used by the crew to masturbate. Dr Dibs administers sedatives to the passengers. Dibs is on the ship because she murdered her own children and husband before attempting suicide. Monte (Pattinson), the only celibate prisoner, rejects Dibs' sexual advances. Monte is serving a life sentence for murdering a friend for killing his dog as a child. Monte's only friend on the ship is Tcherny (Benjamin), who is drawn to the onboard garden because it reminds him of Earth.

Pregnant prisoner Elektra (Obianyo) delivers a baby, but the baby dies, and later she does as well. The captain, Chandra (Eidinger), develops leukemia from radiation and has a stroke before being euthanized by Dibs. One night, male prisoner Ettore (Mitchell) binds a female prisoner Boyse (Goth) and her roommate Mink (Tran) to their beds and attempts to rape Boyse. Nansen (Buzek), the pilot, intervenes, but Ettore attacks and overpowers her. Monte arrives, throws Ettore off Boyse, and beats 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, who produces a healthy child that Dibs dotes on, but Monte is unaware that he is the baby's father.

As the ship approaches the black hole, Nansen prepares to pilot a shuttle around it. 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, the stretching and horizontal compression of objects into long thin shapes in a very strong non-homogeneous gravitational field. Mink later attacks Dibs and injures her, but is then killed by Monte. Dibs informs Monte that the child is his before ejecting herself into space. Tcherny commits suicide and Monte buries him in the garden according to his wishes. Now the only surviving prisoner, Monte removes the bodies from the ship's morgue, dresses them in spacesuits, and releases them into space.

Monte struggles to raise the baby, whom he has named Willow. He attempts to make repairs to the ship, but her frantic cries through his helmet speakers causes him to drop a tool and lose it in space. Much later, when Willow has grown into 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, implying contamination could potentially sicken or kill them. The ship moves closer to the black hole, and Willow convinces Monte to board a shuttle with her and journey through it. Monte takes Willow's hand as a yellow light source grows ever larger and envelops them.



Claire Denis had the idea of the project in her mind for fifteen years.[7] She said, "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."[8]

Novelist Nick Laird co-wrote the screenplay for the film along with Denis, Fargeau and Geoff Cox. Laird's wife Zadie Smith also contributed to early drafts of the English version of the screenplay.[9] 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.[10]

Denis went to the European Space Agency's Astronaut Centre in Cologne to learn about human spaceflight exploration before the film started shooting.[11]

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."[12] Denis compared Pattinson's character to the knight Percival of Arthurian legend, and Binoche's character to Medea from the Greek tragedy.[12]


During the project's early stages, Denis had Vincent Gallo in mind for the lead role,[7] 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.[8]

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."[13] In late 2015, Patricia Arquette and Mia Goth joined the cast.[14] In September 2017, Arquette dropped out while the rest of the cast, including Juliette Binoche and rapper André 3000, were also announced.[15] Playing the role of baby Willow is Scarlette Lindsay, Pattinson's goddaughter. After Pattinson was unable to bond with the babies cast as Willow, he remembered that Lindsay was friendly around adults. Pattinson asked a favour of Lindsay's father to cast her in the film, which he described as a "massive gamble" that was ultimately paid off by her "incredible" performance.[16]


Principal photography began in Cologne, Germany on 4 September 2017.[13][17][18][15][failed verification] The Polish part of the shooting took place in Białystok.[19] Filming wrapped in late October 2017.[20]


Claire Denis (right) presenting High Life at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.

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.[21] The film had its theatrical release in France on 7 November 2018[22] and in the United Kingdom on 10 May 2019.[23][24] A24 acquired U.S. distribution rights to the film.[25] The film was released in the United States on 5 April 2019.[26] It was later given a Blu-Ray/DVD release in North American retailers.


Critical response[edit]

On review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, 82% of critics have given the film a positive review based on 236 reviews, with an average rating of 7.4/10. 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."[27] On Metacritic the film has a weighted average score of 77 out of 100 based on reviews from 41 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[28]

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."[29] Jessica Kiang of Variety called it "extraordinary, difficult, hypnotic, and repulsive".[30] 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."[31] 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."[32] Matt Zoller Seitz of RogerEbert.com described it as "tailor-made for viewers who like science fiction in a cryptic 1970s art-house mode."[33]

In France, Le Monde and Libération described High Life as a "masterpiece".[34][35]


Award Date of ceremony Category Recipients Result Ref.
San Sebastián International Film Festival 29 September 2018 Best Film High Life Nominated [36]
FIPRESCI Award High Life Won [37]
Film Fest Gent 19 October 2018 Best Film High Life Nominated [38]
Georges Delerue Award Stuart A. Staples Won [39]
Louis Delluc Prize 12 December 2018 Best Film High Life Nominated [40]


  1. ^ Screenplay with the collaboration of Geoff Cox; additional writing by Andrew Litvack and Nick Laird.


  1. ^ "High Life". Toronto International Film Festival. Retrieved 27 July 2018.
  2. ^ "High Life (2019)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 24 April 2020.
  3. ^ a b Goodfellow, Melanie (8 February 2016). "Wild Bunch to launch porn star Rocco Siffredi doc at EFM". ScreenDaily. Archived from the original on 10 February 2016. Retrieved 4 July 2017.
  4. ^ "High Life (2018)". The Numbers. Nash Information Services. Retrieved 4 May 2022.
  5. ^ Vlessing, Etan. "Toronto: Timothee Chalamet Starrer 'Beautiful Boy,' Dan Fogelman's 'Life Itself' Among Festival Lineup". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on 2 August 2018. Retrieved 24 July 2018.
  6. ^ McNary, Dave (12 September 2018). "'High Life,' Starring Robert Pattinson and Juliette Binoche, Nabbed by A24". Variety. Retrieved 15 January 2019.
  7. ^ a b "Claire Denis Talks High Life & Robert Pattinson "his unflinching desire and our mutual recognition have done their work"". Robertpattinsonau.com. 14 May 2017. Archived from the original on 27 June 2017. Retrieved 4 July 2017.
  8. ^ a b Jagernauth, Kevin (25 May 2016). "Claire Denis on How Philip Seymour Hoffman Inspired 'High Life' And The "Heartrending Charisma" of Robert Pattinson". IndieWire. Archived from the original on 30 June 2016. Retrieved 4 July 2017.
  9. ^ Newman, Nick (8 February 2016). "Claire Denis' Robert Pattinson-Led 'High Life' Will Feature Unwanted Insemination and Black Holes". Filmstage.com. Archived from the original on 9 February 2016. Retrieved 4 July 2017.
  10. ^ Erbland, Kate (3 October 2018). "'High Life' Director Claire Denis Explains Why Novelist Zadie Smith Departed Film: 'There Was Not a Word We Could Share'". IndieWire.
  11. ^ Epstein, Sonia (14 November 2018). "Claire Denis' Science Consultant Talks About High Life". Sloan Science & Film.
  12. ^ a b Dan Schindel (16 April 2019). "Claire Denis on Black Holes, Olafur Eliasson, and the Making of High Life". Hyperallergic.
  13. ^ a b Raup, Jordan (21 June 2017). "Claire Denis Will Begin Production on Her Sci-Fi Drama 'High Life' Next Month". Filmstage.com. Archived from the original on 9 July 2017. Retrieved 4 July 2017.
  14. ^ Jagernauth, Kevin (26 October 2015). "Patricia Arquette and Mia Goth Join Robert Pattinson in Claire Denis' Sci-Fi 'High Life,' Plot Details Revealed". IndieWire. Archived from the original on 9 July 2017. Retrieved 4 July 2017.
  15. ^ a b Lang, Brent (8 September 2015). "Toronto: Juliette Binoche, André Benjamin Join Claire Denis' 'High Life' (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. Archived from the original on 2 October 2017. Retrieved 8 September 2017.
  16. ^ Kaye, Don (17 April 2019). "Living the High Life with Robert Pattinson". Den of Geek. Retrieved 10 February 2022.
  17. ^ Foreman, Katya (3 July 2017). "Front Row at Christian Dior Couture Fall 2017". Women's Wear Daily. Archived from the original on 3 July 2017. Retrieved 4 July 2017.
  18. ^ Jagernauth, Kevin (18 August 2017). "'Bright Sunshine In' Trailer: Juliette Binoche Stars In Claire Denis' New Film". Playlist.net. Archived from the original on 18 August 2017. Retrieved 18 August 2017.
  19. ^ ""High Life" Filming Completed". Film Commission Poland. 21 November 2017. Retrieved 15 January 2019.
  20. ^ Goodfellow, Melanie (25 October 2017). "Wild Bunch brings new Natalie Portman and Ari Folman animation projects to AFM (exclusive)". Screen International. Archived from the original on 25 October 2017. Retrieved 26 October 2017.
  21. ^ Hopewell, John. "San Sebastian: Claire Denis, Kim Jee-woon, Naomi Kawase Make Competition". Variety. Archived from the original on 13 July 2018. Retrieved 24 August 2018.
  22. ^ "High Life French release date". Twitter (in French). Archived from the original on 13 May 2019. Retrieved 24 August 2018.
  23. ^ "High Life". Thunderbird Releasing. Retrieved 7 March 2019.
  24. ^ "HIGH LIFE in UK Cinemas from 10 May". Filmoria.co.uk. Retrieved 14 March 2019.
  25. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (12 September 2018). "A24 Lands Claire Denis' English Language Debut 'High Life' With Robert Pattinson & Juliette Binoche: Toronto". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 12 September 2018.
  26. ^ "High Life A24 Official Page". A24. Retrieved 10 January 2019.
  27. ^ "High Life (2018)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved 10 October 2021.
  28. ^ "High Life Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 11 April 2019.
  29. ^ Ehrlich, David (10 September 2018). "'High Life' Review: Claire Denis Takes Robert Pattinson on an Erotic Space Odyssey in This Mesmerizing Look into the Void — TIFF". IndieWire. Retrieved 10 October 2018.
  30. ^ Kiang, Jessica (10 September 2018). "Film Review: Robert Pattinson in 'High Life'". Variety. Retrieved 10 October 2018.
  31. ^ Bramesco, Charles (10 September 2018). "High Life review – orgasmic brilliance in deepest space with Robert Pattinson". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 October 2018.
  32. ^ MacFarlane, Steve (10 September 2018). "High Life". Slant Magazine. Retrieved 10 October 2018.
  33. ^ Seitz, Matt Zoller (5 April 2019). "High Life movie review & film summary (2019)". RogerEbert.com/. Retrieved 1 January 2021.
  34. ^ "" High Life " : Claire Denis sonde le désir en apesanteur". Le Monde (in French). 6 November 2018. L’avis du « Monde » – chef d’œuvre
  35. ^ ""High Life", vaisseau spécial". Libération. 6 November 2018. Un chef-d’œuvre halluciné et viscéral dans la lignée des grands films du genre.
  36. ^ "2018. 66th Edition - 21-29 September". San Sebastián International Film Festival. Retrieved 13 February 2020.
  37. ^ "Claire Denis will collect the Fipresci Award for High Life". San Sebastián International Film Festival. 28 September 2018. Retrieved 13 February 2020.
  38. ^ "Festival editions 2018". Film Fest Gent. Retrieved 13 February 2020.
  39. ^ "'Cold War' by Paweł Pawlikowski and 'High Life' by Claire Denis victorious at 45th Film Fest Gent". Film Fest Gent. 19 October 2018. Retrieved 13 February 2020.
  40. ^ Lemercier, Fabien (25 October 2018). "Nine candidates for the 2018 Louis-Delluc Prize". Cineuropa. Retrieved 13 February 2020.

External links[edit]