Travelling at 99% of the speed of light, Clare Denis’s latest feature High Life sees Robert Pattinson’s Monte attempt to raise a baby daughter in deep space. Focusing on three distinct periods in Monte’s journey, the film zigzags back and forward through time without fanfare.
Just as Denis has situated Monte firmly within his loneliness aboard the ship, it seems perfectly logical to jump back to show the craft’s population, a gentle transition to allow the harsher elements of the film to have more impact later on. The crew is comprised of criminals sent away on a mission – supposedly to take readings of a black hole – each fighting with the reality of their situation and the sins they left behind. Pattinson soars ahead despite a strong cast, fully embracing his recently discovered ability for expressive silence. Aboard the vessel, sex, hostility and violence seem inevitable, but are still so shocking.
No stranger to a collaboration with the French auteur, Juliette Binoche is unhinged as the ship’s doctor, Dibs. Ruling with a masochistic fist, Binoche relishes every disturbing second: from quietly horrific revelations to moments of sexual release. It doesn’t ever quite make sense why the other inmates pay her any heed considering their almost complete isolation, but that is part of what makes the film so tantalising.
Even as the third act returns Monte to near isolation, the script never lets him forget the role his past plays in his dangerous present. Denis gleefully toys with time, regret and perseverance, exploring the personal missions of many of her characters before reverting to Monte’s excruciatingly slow development.
The fact remains that this blank expanse provides no full explanations, leaving a great amount of subsequent pondering. Commonly amongst the director’s work, this is rather more enjoyable than actually watching the film – steeped as it is in alienation.
CAST: Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, André Benjamin
DIRECTOR: Claire Denis
WRITERS: Claire Denis, Jean-Pol Fargeau
SYNOPSIS: A father and his daughter struggle to survive in deep space where they live in isolation.