High Life is an absurd, harrowing, erotic existential crisis in space from visionary director Claire Denis, in which Juliette Binoche plays a freaky mad scientist/sex witch conducting fertility experiments on a ship of condemned criminals headed toward a black hole and Robert Pattinson is essentially 2001: A Space Odyssey’s quiet, obliquely determined Dave if he had been a single dad to the space baby. I fucking loved it.
Like 2001 it is concerned with Life and Death, humanity set against the Vantablackness of the void. Like Under the Skin, the void might also sexually consume you. But also it is like nothing else, a movie composed of moments that are wholly, madly, silently-screaming-in-the-theater Original. Every line someone says in High Life is a tiny bewildering miracle. At one point André 3000 sighs “I’m tired as a bat,” and it broke me, I caused a disruption. At another point I’m pretty certain Juliette Binoche combatively asks Robert Pattinson “Are you happy, space-monk?” but I can’t be sure because I BLACKED OUT WITH JOY.
I need to impress upon you that this movie is deeply unsettling and alarming, like high-key alarming, both physically and spiritually violent, very Denis-style “provocative.” I need you to know this because I’m probably going to spend the rest of this talking about good space dad Robert Pattinson and his tiny baby and it’s going sound real cute. Listen: it is real cute. It is maybe my favorite baby thing ever. When we were DECOMPRESSING afterward my friend Emily and I simultaneously declared we would have spent four to five hours just watching RPatz and his space baby. And as is, I think we got a solid 20 minutes? Nearly the whole of act one is just Monte alone on a rundown space ship taking care of his infant daughter, because that Claire Denis never runs out of genius ideas.
It’s really really remarkable—back to that “like nothing else” thing—because you get babies in your safe, Star Trek-style space futures all the time, but never in your space exploration movies, and this injection of domesticity into that atmosphere of surreal danger is striking and touching and captivating as hell. Like, the opening scene of High Life is a person in a space suit carefully fixing a busted panel on the ship siding, and he has rigged the communication system in his helmet into a baby monitor so he can keep an ear to her babbling away in her makeshift playpen inside and coo nonsense at her when he hears her get fussy. When have you ever seen that! Never! This is the kind of SO GOOD this section is. He behaves like every parent with an infant the world over in how everything is a chance for him to try to teach her a word or keep her happy, only those chances in their case are all to do with the practical and philosophical terrors of space travel. It’s absolutely brilliant, I’m obsessed, RPatz & his space baby for screen partners of the year.
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