High Life

Apr 22, 2019

Like the heady sci-fi's of the 60's and '70's, High Life is a serious if not beautiful study of bleak travel to a black hole to save the earth.

High Life

Grade: B+

Director: Claire Denis (Beau Travail)

Screenplay: Denis, et al.

Cast: Robert Pattinson (Good Time), Juliette Binoche (Let the Sunshine In)

Rating: R

Runtime: 1 hr 50 min

By: John DeSando

“Our flight must not be only to the stars but into the nature of our own beings . . . Our natures will be going there, too.” Philip K. Dick

And you thought 2001: A Space Odyssey was slow. Claire Denis’ High Life, depicting death-row inmates on a miserable eight-year black-hole mission to harvest its rotational energy for a hungry earth, is a painfully slow dance with eroticism at its most basic.

Given that true survival can be only through births, the process to engender is haphazard artificial insemination, troubling because of radiation and manipulated by chief doctor and child murderer Dr. Dibs (Juliette Binoche). Denis carries over from her Trouble Every Day and Bastards a darkness and psychosexuality that make here for a disturbing and intriguing study of loneliness and hopelessness.

Monte (Rob Pattinson) seems to be about the sanest among the crew, and initially unbeknownst to him, he’s the father of a daughter, who grows up during the journey. Where she may find a mate in the loneliness of space, writer/director Denis lets us speculate.

Although High Life could be considered low life with a cast of disreputable characters, Denis has far heavier matters to consider, in part about how life and its survival may depend on a balanced menu of sex and daily duties, in other words the elementary building blocks of civilization carefully attended to.

Visually this heady sci-fi is not in the same constellation as the beautiful Space Odyssey or the minimalist Gravity. Its beauty is not born of CGI but rather the Darwinian struggle to survive and more than that, to be human and civilized.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at