Movie Review: High Life

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two half stars

R |

Director: Claire Denis

by Jason Koenigsberg

High Life is not a fun picture like the title may suggest. Nobody is going to walk out of this movie feeling high on life. They are likely going to walk out confused, frustrated, and bewildered by what they witnessed. This is not an easily accessible movie, it is meant to challenge audiences and test their measure and endurance for pretentiousness and ability to decipher meaning from difficult images. The opening shot displays a lot of green vegetables being sprinkled by a mist set to a score made up of horns almost sounding like slow, ominous jazz music. The first shot tells the audience that High Life is about how life will survive in space, as Dr. Ian Malcolm said in Jurassic Park (1993) “life finds a way.” The humans may not survive their space voyage but the plants will. 

The plot to High Life does not matter whatsoever. It involves death row inmates being used as guinea pigs for experiments in space on a one way trip out of Earth’s solar system and into the unknown. That is what outer space represents in this movie, cold, black, darkness, death and most importantly the unknown as the spaceship the main characters are on moves closer towards a black hole. The movie succeeds in setting a dark and sullen mood. High Life is all about the mood and atmosphere since its characters and plot are almost afterthoughts. It fails by having zero sense of pacing. There is no suspense and the narrative jumps back and forth with a very loose structure. High Life also contains a surprising amount of abberant sexual assault on both genders. This comes across shocking and may deter viewers from what the movie is saying about life thriving against all odds. Between the sexual assault and the fact that a photo of a black hole was taken recently, High Life is very much a film for 2019. 

Sadly this movie falls into predictable and pretentious territory with an abrupt ending/non-ending leaving viewers to question what they saw and what it all meant if it meant anything at all to them. French director Claire Denis is very much interested in the bleak and provocative elements of life with a lot of images of blood, sweat, and semen. She is far from the typical female auteur’s vision but makes sure that she shows that women can satisfy themselves sexually in deep space.  High Life may benefit from repeat viewings however it is such a messy and slow ordeal to sit through, this is not a journey into the depths of space that I want to relive anytime soon. An interesting failure to say the least. 

Skip High Life and watch Under the Skin (2014) now streaming on Netflix. A dark sci-fi movie exploring similar themes about love, life, procreation, developing emotions and what it means to be human through the eyes of an alien played by Scarlett Johansson in one of her best performances.

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