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High Life

Entry updated 21 April 2021. Tagged: Film.

Film (2018). Wild Bunch and Andrew Lauren Productions presents in association with Alcatraz Films, Arte France Cinéma, BFI Film Fund, Canal+, Ciné+, Madants, Pandora Filmproduktion, Polski Instytut Sztuki Filmowej, The Apocalypse Films Company and Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen. Directed by Claire Denis. Written by Denis and Jean-Pol Fargeau with Geoff Cox and Andrew Litvack with additional material by Nick Laird and Zadie Smith. Cast includes Victor Banerjee, André Benjamin, Juliette Binoche, Agata Buzek, Lars Eidinger, Mia Goth, Ewan Mitchell, Gloria Obianyo, Robert Pattinson, Jessie Ross and Claire Tran. 113 minutes. Colour.

Prison Spaceship "No 7" attempts to harvest the energy of a Black Hole.

"Radical experiments are taking place in space," explains an Indian professor (Banerjee). "Death row inmates are selected as guinea pigs [ ...] We'll be bone dust while they're still hurtling through space."

Beautiful imagery haunts this first English-language feature from French writer and director Claire Denis, but the lack of a fully-realized spaceship makes the ferocity of its characters more persuasive than the facticity of their mission. While more intelligent than many Spacesuit Films, High Life tends toward the expository science and Horror in SF of the premillennial mainstream. It is, nonetheless, a powerful depiction of how degraded the behaviour of human beings beyond Taboo might become.

That the Psychology of convicts on Drugs travelling at 99% of the speed of light to create artificial Gravity is convincing is largely due to the performances, particularly those of Goth, Binoche and Pattinson, but the script seems divided into two parts; one portraying the revolt of the prisoners against the onboard Eugenics program presided over by Dr Dibs (Binoche) and the other the relationship between Monte (Pattinson) and his daughter Willow (Ross) that begins and ends the film. "It's like you've become the shaman of sperm," says Monte to Dibs of his reluctance to use "The Box", a masturbation booth used by the other prisoners for the purposes of Sex and from which Dibs harvests sperm as part an attempt to produce healthy foetuses in space. Dibs drugs Monte and rapes him in his sleep before inseminating another prisoner, Boyse (Goth) with his child. Dibs is aboard because she, like Medea, has killed her own children. An angry Boyse then murders pilot Nansen (Buzek) with a shovel before taking Nansen's place in the shuttle constructed to collect the rotating energy of the black hole via the Penrose Process (see Physics), with disastrous results.

The Lord of the Flies aspect (see William Golding) of the film's plot rather swamps its scientific aspects – indeed, there are no Scientists other than Dibs aboard, despite the apparent desperation of No 7's mission, and no officer class other than ailing captain Chandra (Eidinger). That the crew is so evidently not of "the right stuff" lends a note of unreality to proceedings. The close-up detail of the ship's increasingly dilapidated and cranky Technology is, however, well-researched and the imagistic metaphors of fecundity, moisture and human fluids in space convey the preoccupations of a crew more concerned with human impulses than with the humanism of its mission (see Optimism and Pessimism) very effectively. When the film depicts its science pictorially – as with its final image of a single horizontal line to denote the singularity of a black hole – it succeeds, and its characters seem as if they really do occupy the near-oblivion of deep space. [MD]


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